“Sixty large turkeys, 24 bone in spiral hams, 250 pounds of potatoes, 50 pounds of green beans, 20 pounds of neck bone and giblet gravy, six gallons of cranberry and 60 blondie and pumpkin pecan pies.” Jack Gilmore is listing some of the items and ingredients, many donated by local farmers, that went into a Thanksgiving feast for the homeless at the First Baptist Church this week.
He describes the meal as “a traditional dinner, but JAK’ed up a little bit” with the same Southwestern flair found on his menu at Jack Allen’s Kitchen. For example, 100 dozen tamales went into the tamale jalapeño cornbread dressing — no bland, soggy stuffing here! This is the third year in a row Gilmore and his team have partnered with Mobile Loaves and Fishes to feed anywhere from 500 to 700 people at what has become an annual event.
Chef Jack Gilmore describes the meal as “a traditional dinner, but JAK’ed up a little bit” with the same Southwestern flair found on his menu at Jack Allen’s Kitchen.
“The thing that blows me away — I get goosebumps just thinking about it — is that we had over 50 volunteers just from Jack Allen’s Kitchen,” says Gilmore. “It means a lot to us to give back to the community. Nothing is a better feeling than walking through that room and seeing people smiling — just getting off their feet and enjoying a great meal.”
Gilmore has been involved with Mobile Loaves and Fishes for the past nine years that they’ve been serving the Austin community. “Donna and Alan and Tricia — they’re unbelievable people. Just good, honest people,” says Gilmore. “They’re going to change the world.”
In addition to bringing lunch and dinner to the streets 365 days a year, Mobile Loaves and Fishes trucks provide hygiene products and basic clothing to those experiencing homelessness. They also run a micro-enterprise program to assist people in securing dignified employment, with opportunities such as ice cream vending from bicycle carts, car and window washing and a wood workshop that produces items such as picnic tables for Hat Creek Burger Company and birdhouses for Revival in Bee Caves.
Their latest project is the first of its kind in this country. The Community First! Village is a 27-acre master-planned community that will provide affordable, sustainable housing and a supportive community for the disabled and chronically homeless. The Village is an expansion of a program the organization has been running for eight years now, housing 40 residents in RV parks around the city. They also offer support for residents to find employment and pay rent, thus empowering them to improve their own lives. The program currently has an 87% success rate.
“We work with the idea that an individual needs to be settled, that housing precedes wellness,” says Donna Emery, donor and communications director for MLF. “And if we can get them settled in homes, they can then start to repair and restore from living on the street and how difficult that is. Then, we can begin to cultivate and help them to discover their God-given talents. Then they’re in a better place to care for each other and the community.”
They are already running a three-acre garden on the property, as well as a bee yard, tended to by those who both former and currently homeless participants. After harvesting the fruits of their labor, they’ve learned to make pickles, jellies, pesto and more. Gilmore has also used some of the produce for Community First! fundraising events he has catered.
The finished community will house 200 residents in refurbished RVs, tipis, canvas-sided guest houses and microhomes developed by the UT School of Architecture. McCoy’s Building Supply will help build the village, as well as setting up a lumberyard with a full workshop on site. There will also be a fully equipped medical facility, a chapel, an art studio, an outdoor movie theater designed by Tim League of the Alamo Drafthouse and an Airstream trailor bed and breakfast designed by Liz Lambert and inspired by her El Cosmico campground in Marfa. Not only will these components help in community building, but the residents will also help maintain them as a part of the work program.
“We have 17,000 volunteers through the truck ministry, and I really believe that we’re changing the face of homelessness,” says Emery. “I think our community, through volunteerism, has a much deeper understanding of what the root cause of homelessness is, which we think is a catastrophic loss of family and community, and I think that’s why we’re lucky enough to live in a city that’s willing to embrace an innovative solution to homelessness.”
Mobile Loaves and Fishes is currently $4 million into a $6.5 million campaign. They are hoping to break ground by April 2014, but it all depends on whether funding is met. “We have friends who are working in this program — working in the garden, with the ice cream carts, in the workshop — and at the end of the day, we have to take them back to the woods,” says Emery. “So that’s no good. We have people who need to move in now.”
To donate to the Community First! program, visit the Mobile Loaves and Fishes website.