Los Angeles can be such a beautiful city. Especially downtown with historic buildings and a bunch of decent sized sky scrapers. Tonight when I was riding my bike through the city lights it looked a bit like New York to me. I found myself searching for spots that would transcend me back to one of the fundamental parts of my past. “Burritos, Water, Candy.” Oh yeah…okay…stay on point Casey. “Would you care for a burrito?” I ask a middle aged Latino man, he nodded yes. Once he took the gifts from my hands I jumped back on the bike and we rolled. It’s getting easier to see them now. After spending years of my life trying to ignore them and their simple pleads I was now seeking them out. I was seeking out the homeless on skid row. Not the skid row from Little Shop of Horrors and defiantly not the skid row who adorned luscious hair band lockets but the Skid Row that (un)houses one of the largest stable populations of homeless people in the US.
Every other week for the past year and a half a band of good hearted Angelinos voluntarily gather to cook and prepare over 200 burritos to hand out to the homeless people of downtown LA. This project is funded completely by donations and also includes water and a new treat, chocolate and candy. Preparation involves about 2 industrial sized rice cookers, four or so crock pots of beans, blowing of breakers numerous times, a group of bikes, a bike trailer, coolers, a small army and usually Shaggy. Once all the food is made and packed into coolers it’s delivered on bikes with the help of a lead car. Rule is, to stay together. This is the Burrito Project.
No matter your views on why people are homeless: drugs, abuse, mental illness or just down and out, homeless is homeless, no judgment. And someone in need is someone in need. This is what I told myself when we rolled out. I was nervous and a bit scared but if someone’s in need or if a burrito would make their day or week, I’m in. Plus by the end of the year, in a way, I will become homeless with a life on the road and I wanted to see how people lived little to nothing, sometimes with just the shirt on their back and would we have anything in common?
Things started out slow, which I welcomed. I had no idea what to expect. As we rode through the dark ridden night we passed closed up shops…wow…downtown was like a ghost town. “Would you like a burrito?” my friend Sylva would ask a flattened cardboard box, I thought, what the hell? Very gracefully a single hand reached out from the box only far enough to fetch a burrito and water then it returned beneath the piles. Someone was living under there? How? Heads started popping out of tarps, hands reached out from tents and people would just appear. It was like people were literally coming out of the cracks when they heard the sweet sounds of salvation.
We also handed out a van full of donated blankets, pillows, jackets and socks. I jokingly called out to a very manly man that the satin pastel comforter was a wise choice for him, he chuckled and said yeah, my wife is going to love it, then crawled bear foot back into his tent. The night was filled with many stories to trump or fold this one.
I wasn’t surprised to see people high, drunk or even some addicts or the mentally ill. That’s just like half my family. What I didn’t expect was for them to be like the other half. Fathers, Mothers, Sisters, Brothers. I found myself relaxing and enjoying myself. I was having conversations and just doing what people do. I was starting to see ‘these’ people as people not homeless or needy.
This isn’t what you’d typically think of when you think community but it is. This was an amazing experience that I hope to take part in again. I am grateful for the love and compassion of my friends who give their precious time, energy and effort to this project and thank them for allowing me to tag along to help. All the thank you’s, god bless you’s and so glad you are here comments from Skid Row were pretty damn rad too.
So did I find something in common with ‘these’ people? Yes, we are all but mere humans.
It costs about $150+ a week to buy rice, beans, tortillas, veggies, water and chocolate for the Burrito Project and since it’s donation funded they and I would appreciate any amount of donation to keep this project going. And if you live in Los Angeles and would like to volunteer please contact me. Thank you.
Donations accepted on Paypal at: firstname.lastname@example.org
*I'd love to hear from you, have questions? Comments? Please contact me at casey [at] caseyshepparddesigns [dot] com Thank you again for reading*