It astonishes me how in one of the richest nations in the world, there could be so much hunger, poverty and homelessness. Working with kids for all these years, I am still astounded by their daily struggles with hunger. I have worked with families and children for over fifteen years. Working with them to facilitate a better life for themselves and their children by providing resources.
I keep snacks in my office for some of my kids who very often don’t have breakfast. It is not unusual for some of my families to live in tight and sometime unsafe dwellings with multiple family members just to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.
As I ride the subways, the number of homeless that are asking for handouts, whether it be cash or food appears to have increased in just the 3 years that I have lived in Queens. On the streets of New York City, the homeless with their signs, and even pets, litter the streets. It also seems that they are getting younger. Begging for shelter and food. When did we become a nation where this is okay? The National Allegiance for the Homeless seems to indicate that our numbers have gone down since 2013. Personally, I don’t see it and still think that any number is not okay, not ever. In my small effort to help, I generally do not give money but I try to remember to carry snacks in my bag and happily give them away. There are instances, where my heart is tugged at, I will buy someone a meal. I try to do this every once in awhile because if not us,… then who?
This leads me back to Austin and its Austin Awesomeness. If I thought it was awesome prior to visiting Community First Village (Mobile Loaves and Fishes), a community that offers shelter with dignity and a sense of family to those in need, well I can tell you that it is even more freaking awesome. This incredible organization started in 1998 when five catholic church parishioners got together with a mini van and started distributing sandwiches to the homeless on the streets of Austin. Their goal, at the time, was to feed as many people as possible. Eventually they upgraded to a pick up truck with a catering bed and to date they have fed more than 4 million meals with the help of about 18,000 volunteers. Their Mobile Loaves and Fishes trucks are still going strong and feeding the hungry in various states.
While doing research on tiny house living in Austin, I came upon Community First Village. I emailed them and to my luck, Pastor Matt Freeman, who now runs the program along with its original creator Alan Graham, emailed me back and we set a time for me to come and get a tour of this phenomenal community that truly should be a global example of taking an idea and putting it into action. Pastor Matt, explained that eventually they raised enough money to purchase 27 acres just minutes from downtown Austin.
Once again, my sister and brother-in-law drive me to Hog Eyed Road, after our first attempt the day before landed us on the wrong Hog Eyed Road where we drove for what seemed forever. The drive, not being a total waste, as it deemed us with incredible landscape and a view of a few longhorns.
Pastor Matt greeted us eagerly. He showed us a video in their office/trailer, depicting the long journey that brought them to the place we were standing. Pastor Matt explained that Community First Village is a 27-acre planned community that will provide affordable, sustainable housing and a supportive community for the disabled, chronically homeless in Central Texas. It is a Christian based community, but its residents are not declined or accepted based on there religion. They believe in helping its residents not just have a home, but feel a sense of family, dignity and purpose. All residents must pay a small amount of rent and donate time to working in the community whether its building, cleaning, cooking, gardening or helping with the animals that will be living there. This cooperative environment allows for a sense of pride and self-worth. Volunteers and residents are involved in farm development, coop care, food distribution, composting, caring for fruit trees and keeping the grounds beautiful!
To my delight the houses, which I will say are stunning and lovely, are also tiny. Each tiny house was designed to meet different needs. They are all colorful and cheerful. Looking at the exteriors, you get such a sense of welcome and pride in the work that is being done here. The homes have barrels for collecting rain water and are sustainable. There is an amphitheater, generously donated by Alamo theaters. There is an outdoor community kitchen since most of the homes only come with a small efficiency. Which is kind of cool as this is a community and they are focused on cooperative living. They also have a community garden to grow much of there food. When I visited this past April, they were still in the production stage and no residents were living there yet, but residents were would be moving in shortly. The chicken coop was still being worked on, as well as other parts of the grounds. Yet, being there and seeing so much being created for the good of others and with such incredible vision made my heart smile. I was in my happy place.
Community First can certainly be a global example to all on initiative, taking a stance and applying it. If you ever want to volunteer and don’t want to go to a third world country, try Community First. There is need and hunger right here in our own backyards. Being there, you can feel the incredible energy of good work being done. It was truly an honor to be able to visit and learn about what they are doing to promote and create a difference. It is a special place, like no other I have seen. Please visit their website and learn for yourselves about this amazing organization.
I cannot wait to return to Austin and volunteer along with the many wonderful people who keep Community First and its mission a reality that truly takes care of those in need.