On Sunday afternoons in Eugene you may have noticed some people wandering downtown with big, warm insulated bags of food, wafting the scent of burritos behind them. Burrito Brigade is an all-volunteer group of vegan burrito makers that started distributing tasty wraps to those in need about a year and a half ago.
Burrito Brigader Christy Reynolds says the group is in the process of getting 501(c)3 status to make donations tax deductible. Right now, she says, they make about 400 to 500 burritos a week using donated and wholesale ingredients from places such as Organically Grown and from anonymous donors.
Fellow Brigader Jennifer Riehl says in addition to beans, the burrito ingredients vary seasonally and by donation, and have included zucchini, summer squash, rutabaga, sweet potatoes, onions, carrots and tomatoes. “We used to use cilantro, but so many people have an aversion,” she says. “And the burritos are so flavorful without it.” She calls them a “whole meal in a tortilla.”
Every Sunday, the Brigade meets at the Lorax Manner, a student cooperative near the UO that donates the use of its kitchen. Riehl says they begin soaking beans at 10 am, and volunteers begin assembling burritos at noon. At 3:30 pm the Burrito Brigade heads downtown to Occupy Medical (OM) at the Park Blocks at 8th and Oak and begins to give burritos to the unhoused and hungry.
Many of the group’s volunteers have been high school and UO students, who are now gone for the summer, Reynolds says, so more volunteers are needed to make and distribute the meals.
After leaving OM, the group carries the burritos in insulated bags, donated by Trader Joe’s, around downtown and to homeless camps to “walk and look for people in need of food,” Reynolds says. “There’s a lot and they are easy to find.” She adds, “Everybody who does it finds it really rewarding.”
Burrito Brigade volunteer Dana Jo Cook adds a little granola to the mix with her own effort, Cereal for the People, named by her daughter, Fern.
Cereal for the People started a year ago in July, Cook says, when an anonymous donor wanted to make sure that assembly-line knockoffs of bags of granola that are not “the right weight or if a bag has too many raisins, nuts or berries” went to feed the homeless. When the stack of bags gets too big, Cook gets a call and runs over to pick it up.
Cook says she has given out 180-200 bags of organic non-GMO granola and cereal a week since she started. Like Burrito Brigade, the bags of food go to OM, homeless camps and people on the street, as well as Whitebird Clinic and local churches. “I never seem to have a problem getting rid of it, “Cook says. “We run out and barely scrape the surface of the need in this town.”
Volunteers and donors can contact Burrito Brigade at firstname.lastname@example.org or via its Facebook page where it regularly puts out requests for volunteers and ingredients. Gardeners can also participate in the Brigade’s “Grow a Row for the Hungry” campaign to grow and donate food.