by Kathy Eide Casas
“We are people who want to give…people who want to provide Fresno’s homeless with a meal that others would normally experience at their own kitchen tables…” Justin Kamimoto, Founder and Program Director for Fresno’s M.E.A.L.
Fresno’s M.E.A.L. starts with you.
Having just surpassed the one-year mark of providing monthly meals to Fresno’s homeless, Justin and his devoted and ever-expanding crew have gone from a one-time 100-meal resource to a program that is steadily gaining volunteers, all of whom share the mission and vision of Fresno’s M.E.A.L.:
Fresno’s M.E.A.L. brings people together-
Fresno’s Meals Engaging All Lives (M.E.A.L.) is creating an experience with homeless individuals through a home-cooked meal.
CREATING A UNIFIED COMMUNITY
Breaking the stigma placed upon homeless individuals.
It began as an idea around Justin’s own family’s kitchen table. It was just over a year ago, in November of 2013, when he decided that it was time to take his idea to action. Using his family kitchen, Justin and 32 community members prepared an entire meal, complete with turkey and all the fresh trimmings that accompany a traditional holiday meal, packaged them up and literally took to the streets, offering homeless individuals a different kind of meal; one that was prepared especially for them.
Justin summed it up in one simple sentence, “The experience was just so remarkable, we had to do it again.” The spark of kindness and compassion was lit, and they did do it again. The second time, it was a homestyle homemade chicken noodle soup, just like your grandmother makes. The simmering goodness enticed taste buds all along the streets of Fresno.
This time, when the volunteers distributed the meals, they discovered a true camaraderie existed among the volunteers. Each experienced their own feelings of connection and compassion, as they shared the meals with those who may not have had anything quite so delicious in a very long time. Soon conversations began and those dialogues are still taking place. Not just in the warmth of the distribution when the volunteers share their thoughts and feelings, but through conversations and outreach to those on Fresno’s streets. Volunteers ask each person if they have what they need and direct them to appropriate resources, if asked. There is no formal table set up for distribution, instead, there is personal delivery. Each homeless individual is asked if they would like a meal and how their day is going; volunteers offer meals and an easy listening ear for those whose voices are often unheard.
“Home is a different definition for everyone,” emphasized Justin. “And home cooked meals conjure up different emotions, experiences and memories for all, no matter where you call home. People go through hard times on life’s journey and it’s up to us, as a community, to help them along the way.”
Since those two initial distributions in 2013, much has blossomed within Fresno’s M.E.A.L. To date, 1204 meals have been distributed in the little red delivery wagons that have become symbolic with Fresno’s M.E.A.L. Many have decided to join with M.E.A.L. and make a true investment in the community. That investment can be as simple as providing a personalized decorated bag, which each meal is packed in, or adding an extra case of water to your own cart at the grocery store so that each meal can include a bottle of water, donating travel size bar of soaps so that homeless individuals can bathe and wash their hair, or dropping off a blanket to help stave off the cold winter months. Explained Justin, “It is humbling to see what clean drinking water, a warm meal and a blanket can mean to someone on the streets. Simple things that we frequently take for granted.” Others in Fresno, such as The Painted Table, are making a sizeable and meaningful community investment by regularly providing their state-of-the-art kitchen for the now expansive volunteer crew, to cook and pack the meals each month.
If you’d like to join with those at Fresno’s M.E.A.L., there are plenty of volunteer opportunities. Visit their website or find them on Facebook at Fresno’s MEAL – Meals Engaging All Lives. The next MEAL will be on December 20-details can be found on their website.
Remember, community involvement starts with YOU!
Community Involvement also includes our best friends…the four-legged variety!
The Holidays traditionally offer a time for many to get involved and lend a helping hand to others. Volunteerism soars. Helping others makes everyone involved feel good; whether it’s providing holiday gifts, a tree, or food for those who may not be able to afford their own.
But, what about our four-legged friends? Isn’t being unconditionally greeted by your pet when you walk through the door, one of the best feelings ever? No matter what kind of day you’ve had, it all melts away when your ever-loyal companion is overjoyed to see you! But, sometimes making sure that your pets are well fed, not just during the holidays, but every day, presents a financial challenge.
Fresno County’s Halo Café is working every day to ensure that no pet will go hungry. Jennifer Quinn-Yovino, Founder and President of the non-profit Halo Café, Fresno County’s only pet food pantry, explained that while it is gratifying to see so many pets leaving the pantry with full tummies, it is also challenging because, “I know that they’re struggling,” she said. “But, it’s sweet because I know we can help. And I’m just so happy to see them. I can’t tell you the joy it brings me to see all those faces lined up, that they knew where to go and they love their pets enough to ask for help, because sometimes that can be hard.”
Halo Café was founded with love and dedication for all pets, so that no pet will have to endure those rumbling feelings of hunger, no matter the financial status of their owners. Halo Café’s sole mission is to help community members in financial distress care for their pets by providing pet food and information on low cost spay and neuter services.
Yovino emphasized, “We believe that no one should have to choose between feeding their pets and feeding themselves.” But for many Fresno families who are struggling financially, the responsibility of caring for a pet can simply be too much. Halo strives to keep pets with their people and out of the already overcrowded shelters. One glance at the lines of eager pet owners at the Pantry for each pet food distribution will tell you that this pantry is a huge hunger-battling success.
You can help Halo Cafe keep pets with their families and out of the shelters by providing resources to families in need. Their ultimate goal is full tummies, empty kennels and a no-kill community.
To learn more about the distribution location and times, to become involved, or to provide support for the non-profit 501 C3 Halo Café, please visit their website for a host of opportunities and information, or find them on Facebook.
“It just takes enough of us to say ‘enough’ and lives will be saved. Support your local no-kill shelters, pet pantries and low cost spay/neuter clinics. And please, please, PLEASE… don’t breed or buy while homeless pets die. Together… NOTHING is imPAWssible.”