SF Homeless Project: Burrito Project SF delivers to the hungry

by Sari Staver

Burrito Project SF volunteers Michael Walters, left, Eric<br>Tuvel, and Jimmy Ryan. Photo: Sari Staver
Burrito Project SF volunteers Michael Walters, left, Eric
Tuvel, and Jimmy Ryan. Photo: Sari Staver  

Once a month, Jimmy Ryan and his crew of volunteers cook and deliver 600 burritos to hungry people, most living on the street.

Ryan, a gay man who is a line cook at Mission Bowling Club, started Burrito Project SF last year, after helping start a similar effort in Los Angeles for several years.

"It's people coming together to help people," said Ryan as he prepared 50 pound pans of rice at the Martin de Poores House of Hospitality, where volunteers come together on the last Monday of each month. Martin de Poores, or Martin's, as it is affectionately known, is an intentional community that serves meals and provides other services to the needy and homeless at its headquarters at 225 Potrero Avenue.

Ryan, 29, first got the idea to cook and deliver meals while working at his family's Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles, when volunteers from a nonprofit asked the Ryans to donate food for the homeless.

"I wanted to see what they were up to," said Ryan, "and thought there might be others, like me, who'd like to get together to help hungry people." He started a burrito project in downtown Los Angeles, where there are now a handful of people delivering food to the hungry and homeless.

When Ryan moved to San Francisco a few years ago, he decided to launch a group here, which quickly attracted volunteers and donations, allowing it to feed 600 people.

More than one-fourth of the volunteers are people who knew Ryan from his volunteer work at the Castro Country Club, the LGBT hub for the recovery community in San Francisco.

Among those is Billy Lemon, the country club's executive director, who volunteers regularly at Burrito Project SF.

"It's the best of San Francisco coming together," Lemon said in an interview at the project.

Monday night, Lemon was among the 50 volunteers who cooked, assembled, and delivered 600 burritos, adding two single-room occupancy hotels to the dozens of homeless encampments where the project normally delivers.

Volunteers begin to arrive at 4 p.m., and, after donning aprons and hairnets, are put to work cooking. By 5, a line forms to assemble, fold, and wrap the homemade burritos.

"We are so happy to have the Burrito Project working here," said Naji Ali, a longtime member of the Martin's community. "What they're doing is very close to our heart. Now some of their volunteers also volunteer with us and ours volunteer with them."

The final task each evening is coordinating the delivery of the burritos to locations nearby where people are known to be living on the street.

That job is handled by Eric Tuvel, a volunteer who is a city planner for San Francisco and formerly worked at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Tuvel heard about the project through a bicycle group email list, came to help with deliveries, and "was immediately hooked," he wrote in an email to the Bay Area Reporter.

Thanks to social media, volunteering with the Burrito Project has increased dramatically, to the point where slots for the delivery squad fill up within days of issuing an announcement, said Tuvel, a straight ally.

"I think the simplicity of the project really speaks to people. Make a burrito and deliver it to someone who is hungry. Many people walk by people on the street who are hungry or marginally housed and they want to give them some food. Burrito Project SF is giving people a way to do that and start a conversation with someone on the street," he said.

"I've definitely seen how the project has helped change the perceptions of our volunteers," he added. "Maybe now they are less likely to cross the street when walking down a sidewalk with a lot of tents or maybe they're more likely to say hi and start a conversation."

As the project grew, a few of the regular volunteers help Ryan organize each month's event, and also work on ways to expand their reach through partnerships with other homelessness and housing service providers, Tuvel said. Two months ago, the Burrito Project began partnering with the Tenderloin Community Housing Clinic to deliver burritos to residents at two of their buildings, he added.

For Ryan, the work with the burrito project introduced him to Martin's, where he now volunteers at least once a week.

Volunteering with the burrito project has had a "ripple effect," said Ryan.

"I find it is helping me to have more empathy for people from all walks of life and I am having more conversations with people about the insecurities of life in San Francisco," he said. "And now, this group has become my family."


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