Meal Providers: Volunteer group feeds city’s homeless - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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Meal Providers: Volunteer group feeds city’s homeless

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Posted: Saturday, January 11, 2020 8:15 pm

A group of roughly seven volunteers gathered at the La Plaza bus station on Adams Street in Brownsville one late Sunday afternoon. Members of the Red Wagon Pantry didn’t waste any time distributing meals to the crowd of homeless residents who gathered in anticipation.

Volunteers distributed meals packaged into to-go boxes from a donated red van, loaded with food and supplies.

“We get to know them by name. We talk to these people, we approach them on their level, and we learn about them. We ask them questions about what they need, how we can help,” said Camie Crisp, the operation’s organizer.

Crisp has been involved in efforts to feed Brownsville’s houseless residents for years. Alongside the coalition Love Brownsville, organized by members of the International Christian Center, Crisp currently hosts the Thanksgiving meal at Good Neighbor Settlement House each year.

The Red Wagon Pantry began in October of last year in response to bouts of cold, inclement weather hitting the Rio Grande Valley as cold fronts came through for days on end.

Crisp and a team of 25 committed volunteers were already serving meals to people downtown. The team stepped up the operation and began distributing blankets, coats, and jackets.

The crew feeds those who live in downtown who otherwise might not be able to access shelters. Crisp noted that local shelters overwhelmed by an influx of asylum seekers in 2019 started locking their doors at certain times, leaving residents without meals.

“We work the streets. We deal with people who live in alleys, people who are living in donation boxes. We see people from other cities that have been sent down here because cities up North can’t provide for them in the cold weather.”

Crisp cited people with no belongings - maybe backpacks, people who only have a suitcase, and inadequate shoes. “We see people in wheelchairs, we see veterans who don’t know how to access the services they’re entitled to, and we see people with mental illness” she said.

The range of life experiences that lead people to homelessness are vast - Crisp and her team encounter everyone from addicts, to victims of abuse, to those who simply don’t want to rely on the government and have no means to access apartments.

“I know one woman who was recovering from cancer. She was bald from her illness and had one bad leg. She was sent down here from Chicago,” she said.

“Another lady - her case is a miracle - she had a history of seizures and her family thought she was ‘demon-possessed’ and threw her out. She ended up in an abusive relationship, and then was on the street. I believe she’s now working part-time and has been able to access an apartment.”

According to Crisp, the coalition began the operation by handing out 10 meals each time they went downtown. Their numbers have increased to 50-60 meals every Saturday and Sunday.

Crisp attributes the increasing need, in part, to homelessness going unaddressed while the majority of local aid organizations work to support asylum seekers stuck across the border, also living in dire conditions.

To serve the homeless, the group takes hygiene kits filled with toiletries a few times a month alongside meals, clothing, and more.

Currently, they’re able to cook out of Crisp’s kitchen. Resources are limited, but donations come in from concerned residents, and Crisp encourages anyone interested to reach out via social media.

“Anything we receive, we’re blessed,” she said. “I recently had three carpenters volunteer their time to install air conditioning units in my garage where we store the food, to help preserve it all.”

The Red Wagon Pantry plans to continue its operations feeding Brownsville’s homeless in the coming year. In addition, Crisp has proposed the creation of a recreational center in Brownsville that would serve as a community space and overnight shelter.

“We would have things like a TV room and counselors. It would be a pass-through space. But, if there’s inclement weather, for example, we could pull cots out for members to stay.”

The system that Crisp has proposed is this: anyone who wishes to become a member could pay a penny, or a dollar, for example, in order to have access to the space. She’s hoping to be able to access grant money to get the center started.

“That would be phenomenal if that’s what Brownsville wants,” she said. “We would have a very clear set of rules to ensure that the space is safe and functional, that the policies are adhered to by every guest so that we have the capacity to help as many as possible.”

Crisp noted that the space could even generate new revenue for local businesses and landlords as aid workers provide services that could get homeless members into apartments, allowing them to re-enter the workforce.

“The people we know and feed are all receptive and very kind,” said Crisp, crediting her team of volunteers for the success of the Red Wagon Pantry’s popularity among the residents they feed.

“We get hugs. We pray together. We confer with everyone to make decisions. Our work is God-driven, but they’re the heart.”

esheridan@brownsvilleherald.com

dcathey@brownsvilleherald.com

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