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Local Groups Feed Homeless in Columbus One Meal at a Time

Sally Wenxin Xia Sally Wenxin Xia Local Groups Feed Homeless in Columbus One Meal at a TimePhoto via Hashtag Lunchbag.
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When MarShawn McCarrel became homeless and had to sleep outside the streets, he hoped some one out there would “get his back.”

Homelessness is not a stranger to Columbus. Although the city is growing through many new developments, Columbus has not yet seen any decline in the homeless population in recent years. Almost every one of us has run into someone who is homeless, and many of us simply walk away without giving them a second thought. However, several local groups are getting together and helping to end hunger one meal at a time, starting with handing out lunches.

McCarrel has gone on to co-found  group called Pursuing Our Dreams with couple of friends, and also started a “Feed the Streets” campaign last October.  Since then, every month, 20 to 30 volunteers and friends come together to hand out home-made lunches to the homeless population in different parts of the city. They are usually able to assemble 150 to 200 lunches at a time.

“It’s never the feeling that we are here to save anybody,” said McCarrel. “We don’t believe in heroes. We believe in neighbors.”

Unlike Feed the Streets, another group called #Hashtaglunchbag started as part of a national movement in Los Angeles in 2012. #Hashtaglunchbag is described as a “movement dedicated to utilizing social media to bring awareness to and eliminate hunger in local communities” according to its website. Roop Bains, NeTeah Hatchett and Valin Williams met through a mutual friend who is the organizer in Cleveland’s chapter and decided to bring this movement to Columbus.

“All it literally took was one comment on an instagram post,” said Hatchett.

Simply using #614Cares and #Hashtaglunchbag through Instagram and Twitter, they were able to bring more than 40 people together to assemble and pass out lunchbags.

“Everyone wants to help in some way but people don’t know where to start,” Bains said, “So this is just a beginning to a bigger movement.”

Lunchbags assembled by both groups include one sandwich, a bag of chips and a piece of fruit. Besides that, #Hashtaglunchbag also puts in a post-it with prayers and motivational words on it.

“We are all in this together,” said Hatchett. “Each month we tried to add a little more to it.”

During its first two outings, Hashtaglunchbag attendees ventured down to homeless camps just outside of Downtown Columbus to give out hundreds of lunch bags. And the experiences have been described as extremely humbling.

“The reward for it is to know that you are doing something, even though it’s not a lot,” said Hatchett. “It’s not only giving someone one meal, but also actually paying attention to them and having a conversation with them which makes a great difference.”

Both Feed the Streets and #Hashtaglunchbag embrace the idea of appreciating and building relationships with the community. While often times we jump to the conclusion that being homeless is a consequence of bad decisions in life, members of both groups  have said it’s not necessarily the case.

“I know a woman who had her house burned down,” said McCarrel. “She didn’t have insurance, and she didn’t have any money left, so she was sleeping in a shelter across the street. She is a great person, and a smart person — she didn’t make any bad decisions. It was an accident that left her on the street, and now people look at her like a disease.”

While the movement continues to grow, #Hashtaglunchbag is also collecting tips about where to find homeless people to reach out to.

“In other cities, a lot of the homeless population is concentrated Downtown, so it’s not hard to find them,” said Hatchett. “But here in Columbus, they are getting kicked of older places and moving further and further out.”

Since #Hashtaglunchbag is completely self-funded, Williams, Bains and Hatchett encourage people to join their cause by either help passing out  lunches or by making a donation, which can be made via paypal to [email protected].

The next Feed the Streets event is taking place on June 21st. Anyone interested in participating can contact MarShawn McCarrel at [email protected].

And the next #Hashtaglunchbag happens on June 29 at Avalon, a dance club located at 205 North 5th Street, with assembling starting at 9:30 a.m. and distribution at noon.

For more information, visit www.hashtaglunchbag.org and www.facebook.com/PursuingOurDreams.

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