In tune with Sanctuary Publisher’s mission, a portion of sales from
will go towards supporting the work of Chilis on Wheels.
Through this beautifully written guest post, Michelle Carrera, founder of Chilis on Wheels, tells us more about this inspiring vegan-based humanitarian organization that is helping to change daily lives while staying true to nonhuman animal justice:
I’m sitting in the van of TheVTeamTour, rain pitters and patters on the roof, the refrigerator spurts and goes silent, our solar power is out; condensation arises and the windows begin to fog; Ollie, my six-year-old says “I’m bored”; Meli, the dog sees a squirrel in the distance and starts barking; my head throbs. I take a second and go inside myself, as I breathe “Think of what all this is about. Think of all the people it will help”. Clouds don’t immediately part, but I slow down and it doesn’t look so ugly and despairing after all. This is what Chilis on Wheels, and now its offshoot project TheVTeamTour has been all about. About gaining perspective on our privileges, and using every last bit to help others.
Chilis on Wheels is a mobile vegan soup kitchen that builds community around free vegan food. Among a warm vegan meal, we provide vegan education, personal care products not tested on animals in our Free Store; we engage the youth into participating in their community, and we create spaces where people can gather; we provide the warmth and the support of a community; and we create a safe space where everyone can belong to and take shelter from the harshness of the world. Because our communities are built by real people, what that space looks like is always changing according to the people that integrate it.
It all started on Thanksgiving 2014 when I looked for a vegan soup kitchen to volunteer at with my son, to teach him about community and to connect him and myself to other people. Upon not finding such a thing, Ollie and I made 15 meals in our kitchen, and distributed it ourselves to people in the streets of New York City. Unbeknownst to me, this day changed the course of my life. Something that day told me I needed to do more, and I started giving food out monthly, then weekly. I ran a crowdfunding campaign to help fund it, and I have poured all my resources, all my time, all my energy into making it flourish. Last year, we served 11, 239 meals!
Both Ollie and I have grown tremendously during this time. I have learned to trust more, in myself, and in others, in that everything will work out. I have learned that we are all rich, that money is not the only capital, not even the most important one; that when we band together and pool our skills, anything is possible. Last Thanksgiving, on our biggest event of the year, we served 1,000 vegan meals and covered the entirety of Manhattan! Close to 200 people joined us and helped serving, cooking, transporting, getting the word out, writing, printing, and taking pictures. In the end, on a day most people spend with their families, people who found themselves alone found a community to share a meal with; a meal possible thanks to the collective efforts of more than 200 people.
It is about the people that share a meal with us. I have made some great friends from the people that we serve. Irene is an older woman. She is gentle and kind, and soft spoken. She has been coming to our gatherings every week for two years, we talk of the weather, and our families, always positive and kind thoughts. James Brown joins us every week too, we like to complain about our aches, and throw some jokes in to ease it. Marcella sometimes brings her two lovely granddaughters. Chile gifts us the donations he receives from the food bank, things he cannot cook because he does not have a kitchen, for things we have already made. Howie is quiet but he is also kind, and loves the products we offer on our Free Store. Maria, is a 96-year-old woman from Puerto Rico, who I have adopted as my grandmother. She walks close to a mile every week to see us. She has come to a period in her life, where she has no one else to count on, except her grandson who visits her about once a month. In the meantime, she has us every Saturday to talk to, to laugh with, to complain to, or joke with. We have given her our phone numbers so she knows she can call us if she ever needs anything. She came to us very depressed and lonely, and we have seen her flourish since, making jokes and being saucy. Chilis on Wheels is so much more than just a meal.
It is about the volunteers. The people that come week after week to make this happen. People that store supplies in their closets which in the limited real estate of NYC this is a HUGE deal! People that come to cook on Saturday mornings, people that tread through blizzards, thunderstorms, heat waves, to make sure the people that rely on us for their Saturday meals, will not go empty handed. Michelle Thiele, now our NYC Chapter Director, a vegan mom to Jamie, one of our youngest volunteers who started helping us out when he was just 2 years old, comes week after week, stores food, cooks it, transports it, seeks out donations, coordinates volunteers, always with such a warmth! Her husband, Jeff, also helps us out every week with his permanent kind smile and solid support. Natassia comes in every week always willing and ready to help in whatever is needed. Christian, our Director of Chapter Development, our Renaissance Man, does a bit of everything, from shoveling snow to helping install solar panels in TheVTeamTour van, to cooking, to drumming up donations, to staying in touch with new chapters. Blake is our favorite babysitter and rule enforcer. And Jimmy, who came to us referred to by a social service agency two years ago. Jimmy is a young vegan; he was going through some hardships and found himself without a place to live, and looking for meals without animal products in the soup kitchens and shelters. Thankfully a social service agency connected us, and Jimmy came in one rainy afternoon. He instantly fit in with our volunteers, and he started coming weekly, having a meal with us and helping us to set up, and serve. Eventually he heard of a job opening in the Parks Dept. in NYC, and he applied, putting in his experience working with us, and including as a reference. He got the job, and has worked with them since. And he still finds time to volunteer with us most weeks. He is our Chilis on Wheels family, where we come together to care for ourselves and our community.
It is about the vegan education, and who we talk to about veganism, about inexpensive but filling and rich meals without animal products. It is about connecting people with their food, in the ingredients, in the process of growing it and bringing it to their table. We visited a school in the Bronx and we gave our standard talk on the importance of plant-based nutrition, connecting it to their readings and their community, and a student, 13 years of age, became so touched that she approached me after the talk, and asked me a million questions a minute. Her mind raced to keep up the pace with the new information; her ethics transformed that day, and we stayed in touch. She is now vegan, and although she cannot volunteer with us because we are more than an hour away from her, she stays in touch and texts me to update me on what she has said to her family and her friends and her local community activism.
So, when the rain pours down and everything seems so hard to live with, I take a minute to think of all the people we have brought together, and the ripple effects our presence continues to create. TheVTeamTour is going across the country gathering folks together to build communities around free vegan food, setting up chapters of Chilis on Wheels, infusing them with our contagious energy to build networks of people, to realize the value of our most underestimated capital: our communities.
Support this amazing organization and nonhumans by ordering a copy of the Baby and Toddler Vegan Feeding Guide by Julia Feliz Brueck:
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Also available at Vegan Essentials.
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