Heart of Texas Magazine

Everyone Eats Today: Mobile Loaves and Fishes for Community First

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I recently had a conversation with Marissa, who emigrated from China at age 19 with nothing but a suitcase. Twenty-odd years later, she has made a very successful life as an American. She told me she didn’t understand why there were so many homeless people; after all, if she did it, why can’t they? One popular concept is “housing first,” then the rest of the problem – food, a job – is easy to figure out. Not surprisingly, the issue is very complex. Mother Theresa, a Roman Catholic nun who spent much of her life among poor and homeless in India, said, “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked, and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for is the greatest poverty.”

Everyone Eats Today: Mobile Loaves and Fishes for Community First

Photo: Mobile Loaves & Fishes

Twenty years ago, five Austin men attended Christ Renews His Parish at St. John Neumann Catholic Church. This created in them the desire to love the unloved homeless population of Austin. They had ideas and met with Houston Flake, the janitor of their church, who they knew had been homeless at one point in his life. Flake said to them, “Why don’t you meet with me in my board room?” He took them to a homeless camp in the woods not far from their own neighborhoods and introduced them to their neighbors.

Aerial View of Community First! Village

Everyone Eats Today: Mobile Loaves and Fishes for Community First

Photo: Mobile Loaves & Fishes

These five men began to see the connection between their Christian faith and their homeless neighbors and realized that these people were also Children of God. They learned that the residents of this camp were homeless because they had suffered a catastrophic loss of family or community, and that the way to lift them from the frightening and difficult circumstances of their life required a human to human, heart to heart connection. They began to learn names, stories, and develop a relationship with the people in this community. They saw that “Love your neighbor as yourself” included the people in this homeless camp. The result of this was Mobile Loaves and Fishes, a 501(c)3 organization which receives support from hundreds of churches and individuals in the Austin area and receives near perfect scores for accountability and transparency, via Charity Navigator. They started with a van delivering sandwiches and now have 12 food trucks manned by volunteers delivering food operating out of eight commissaries – seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. On the side of the trucks, their slogan is “Everyone Eats Today.”

Volunteers serving Thanksgiving Dinner

Everyone Eats Today: Mobile Loaves and Fishes for Community First

Photo: Mobile Loaves & Fishes

Alan Graham, Founder and CEO of Mobile Loaves and Fishes, does not agree with the “housing first” philosophy. He believes that homelessness is caused by a catastrophic loss of family. To recover, people need connections, they need community, and they need family. Their next step was the “Community First! Village,” now encompassing 51 acres, with 250 homes and 330 more planned. The community has organic gardens, an art studio, a blacksmith and woodworking shop, an outdoor movie theater, a medical facility, laundry/restroom/shower facilities, community kitchens, a memorial garden and prayer labyrinth, a Capital Metro bus stop, walking trails, meeting spaces for worship, study and fellowship, community market, Community Inn bed & breakfast, and outdoor Wi-Fi. Graham’s latest initiative is to reduce downtown panhandling by turning panhandlers into street vendors selling water and ice cream. According to the Community Impact Newspaper, Graham believes this program has the potential to reduce panhandling by 50 to 80%.

Come see for yourself

Everyone Eats Today: Mobile Loaves and Fishes for Community First

Photo: Mobile Loaves & Fishes

Sound interesting? Public tours are offered Wednesdays and Saturdays. The Village is located just east of Austin at 9301 Hog Eye Road, and they can be contacted at [email protected] or 512-328-7299.

This article was originally published in Heart of Texas Magazine, Spring 2019.