Making connections with area's homeless
At Mobile Loaves and Fishes—a nonprofit headquartered at 903 S. Capital of Texas Hwy. that provides food and other items to the area's homeless—volunteers and staff members are looking to turn their meals into something more than just a way to satiate hunger.
Donna Emery, donor and communications director for MLF, said one goal of the ministry is to allow volunteers to gain a deeper understanding of the issues facing the homeless while trying to meet the needs of the homeless.
"[We want volunteers] to recognize as you spend time and serve on the trucks and you give meals and you become friends, that our friends on the streets deserve the same understanding and compassion, that we're all individuals created in His image," Emery said.
MLF has a fleet of 11 trucks in the Austin area, a total of 16 trucks throughout the nation and about 12,000 volunteers. Each truck carries about 175 meals, and this summer, the nonprofit expects to reach about 3.5 million meals served.
The nonprofit was started in 1998 by Alan Graham and five other parishioners from St. John Neumann Catholic Church. MLF became a nonprofit in 2000, and the ministry currently serves homeless individuals throughout Austin as well as in Cedar Park, Lake Travis and San Antonio.
Emery said through the program, volunteers begin to establish relationships with those they are serving. Some staff members of MLF have logged more than 175 nights sleeping on the streets as part of retreats to help them understand the needs of the community they are serving, she said.
"In that time, we've really listened to what our community needs," Emery said. "Instead of us telling them what we think they need, we listened to what they need."
Along with food, volunteers also give out other supplies such as small containers of soap and shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste and even dog and cat food.
MLF Communications Coordinator Perri Verdino-Gates said connecting with those they are serving makes the biggest difference for both the volunteers and the homeless.
"It's just connecting that they are human, that they're people also," Verdino-Gates said. "That's the main thing that we do, just make that connection. We all have stories, and they have amazing stories."
Along with providing food and other needed items for the homeless community, Mobile Loaves and Fishes has branched out to help provide a home for the homeless.
The program Community First! started about eight years ago and currently has about 35 residents living in mobile homes. Those in the program have to pay rent, and the program has about an 86 percent success rate, said Donna Emery, MLF communications director. She said success means that once an individual moves into a house, they do not fall back into homelessness.
For more information and criteria for the program, visit www.mlf.org/community-first.
Where to find the trucks
Emery said MLF has various commissaries throughout Austin where trucks are loaded with food and dispersed into the community.
Each truck plans out its route, and Emery said those in need "know where to find us." The MLF website has a map of truck sites at www.tracker.mlf.org/datasource/maps/map/1.
Some of the commissaries include:
- Lake Hills Church
- Austin Ridge Bible Church
- Riverbend Church
- An alliance of churches downtown
- St. Thomas More Catholic Church
- St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Cedar Park
- St. John Neumann Catholic Church
Mobile Loaves and Fishes, 903 S. Capital of Texas Hwy., Austin, 512-328-7299, www.mlf.org