Jennifer Denson. Photo by Paul Neevel.

Jennifer Denson

Born in Eugene, Jennifer Denson went to grade school at Spring Creek Elementary, then migrated with her family to Silver City, New Mexico, for middle and high school, plus a year of college at Western New Mexico University. “I took the basics,” she notes, “then ended up managing the family video store.” 

She spent one year as a live-in nanny, then returned to home town Eugene for a year of study at Lane Community College. She escaped to Palm Springs for a year, then took a job in retail at Valley River Center and returned to LCC for a degree in early childhood education. “I taught preschool as a substitute for a while,” she continues, “then was hired by the 4J School District as an educational assistant in 2014. I began volunteering with Burrito Brigade around the same time.” 

Burrito Brigade was a modest program, started earlier that year in a house in the Whiteaker neighborhood. A team of 10 to 15 volunteers gathered every Saturday to assemble vegan burritos and carry them out to nearby locations where unhoused people could be found. “A walking distribution where people are hungry,” Denson explains. “Everyone gets a burrito, no questions asked.” 

In the winter of 2015, a Sunday brigade was added, with burritos assembled in the much larger kitchen of the First Christian Church in downtown Eugene, and in 2016 the Saturday brigade moved to Bethesda Lutheran Church in the Bethel neighborhood. Distribution was greatly expanded by volunteers with bicycles and cars. In 2019, the Little Free Pantry project was started. More than 50 of the weatherproof food boxes, stocked by volunteers on a weekly basis, are now in use in Eugene, Springfield and neighboring towns. 

“In spring of 2020, when the pandemic hit, the churches closed down,” Denson recalls, “but people were still hungry. That’s when we launched Waste to Taste, our free grocery store project.” With funding from donations and local agency grants, the brigade was able to lease a building on West 6th Avenue and remodel its kitchen. “We got amazing kitchen equipment donated,” Denson says. “We’ve been in this building for all operations since 2022. I left my job at 4J and started getting paid, and we have two paid staff besides me.” 

For information on Waste to Taste shopping hours (by appointment only), Little Free Pantry locations, and volunteer opps, visit BurritoBrigade.org.

Comments are closed.