Mobile Cafe StreetGreens

Dear Bread Loaf Mountain Zen Community, 

Covid-19 has changed our lives. Things always change and our Zen practice is training on how to show up for whatever is happening, nimbly and with open hearts and minds. The Zen Peacemaker’s three tenets of Not Knowing, Bearing Witness and Taking Action guide us. 

I am writing to ask you to help us respond to serious and growing unmet needs in our region – social isolation and food insecurity. As I describe below, Bread Loaf Mountain Zen Community has a unique and timely opportunity to purchase a fully operational food truck. This vehicle will allow us to respond quickly and purposefully to the increasing hunger and isolation of our neighbors while, over time, becoming a known and valued presence in our communities. 

Most immediately, we will work to meet the needs of hungry Vermonters. The truck would be a family-style kitchen and free mobile café, bringing food, care, awareness, engagement, and spiritual friendship to our regional communities. Post-pandemic, we also have a plan for how we can use the truck to strengthen our communities and create small-scale pathways out of poverty.

We are proposing that our successful Bread Loaf Mountain Zen Café become a mobile café called StreetGreens. We are asking for your help to make this happen. We’ve already quietly raised slightly more than $25,000 toward the goal of $50,000. We would be deeply grateful if you could help us raise the remaining $25,000 to put the rubber to the road, so to speak, by making a generous gift today

Please read the background below for detail, and be in touch with me directly if you would like to support this new endeavor, or make a donation online at www.breadloafmountainzen.org/giving. The need for this is timely and urgent, so we humbly ask that you give as much as you can. Any funds we receive over $50,000 will go dollar for dollar towards food and direct support in our community. 

Bread Loaf Mountain Zen Community is a registered 501c3 and all gifts are 100% tax deductible. We will work quickly and collaboratively with our residents, volunteers, and other organizations and church groups to get the truck on the road by the end of June, providing company, friendship, spiritual care, and good food to our neighbors most in need.

Gratefully,

Joshin Byrnes
Guiding Teacher
Bread Loaf Mountain Zen Community

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The Need

Getting good food to people who need it has long been a problem in rural places. Today, Covid-19 is putting already vulnerable rural people at greater risk. That risk is growing exponentially right now, both globally and locally, creating new challenges for getting good food to people as well as increasing painful levels of isolation among our most vulnerable neighbors. 

Last week, I bore witness to thousands of people lined up for free food at the local Middlebury airport. As we waited for many hours in a food line four cars wide and miles long, people spoke of the realities of running out of money and food, and the impact of social isolation on their wellbeing. Some were sad, and many expressed anger about how difficult it was to have their basic human needs met in this time of crisis. As another indicator of need, the Bread Loaf Mountain Zen Café has been delivering 150 meals a week to Rutland since the shutdown began. Now in Middlebury, one hundred people without permanent housing are living in local hotels and need three meals a day, seven days a week. Covid-19 has laid bare the realities of food insecurity for our neighbors and friends – nearly 1 in 4 Vermonters are not getting enough to eat during this pandemic. Many organizations are stepping up, but the need still far outpaces the capacity of our brave little state to provide nutritious food to those who need it most. Local non-profits expect this need to grow as we enter the autumn and winter months, especially if we face another wave of Covid-19.

Equally important, people who have already been experiencing a high degree of social isolation and lack of human contact are far more isolated now than they were before the pandemic. Mental health challenges, poor health, becoming elderly, dealing with severe and persistent addiction, and poverty intersect with devastating effects. Loneliness and anxiety, lack of purpose, and boredom converge to make difficult lives even more unbearable. The spiral is real – deaths of despair are increasing. We already know that nourishing someone means more than just giving them a good meal. They need a friend, someone who can appreciate their lives, be glad for their presence, mourn their losses with them, listen to their concerns, and share in their joys.

StreetGreens is a fully operational food truck that has been running successfully in Burlington for a few years now. It was a family operation that employed the owner and his two high-school aged daughters. Now that his daughters have gone off to college, the owner has decided to sell the enterprise. The cost of the entire business is $40,000. This includes the truck, all the equipment in excellent working order, as well as all the rights to the business, its website, all menus, current permits, financial records, and food sourcing arrangements. I have been talking with the owner of StreetGreens for a couple of months now. The Board and residents of Bread Loaf Mountain are ready to repurpose StreetGreens to meet the needs of isolated and hungry Vermonters and, over time, to engage more fully with the community at large. Our goal is to raise $50,000 in order to buy the business ($40,000) and to establish a reserve for start-up costs and food ($10,000).

A Practice

Most of our service to date has centered on Rutland, emerging out of our homeless street plunge there a couple of years ago. Plunging into the unknown and bearing witness to every part of a situation is a signature Zen Peacemaker practice that allows for wise and compassionate action to arise. During that Rutland street retreat, we recognized the serious need for healthy food, the company of friends, and dignifying settings to gather, converse, and share a meal. Our Bread Loaf Mountain Zen Café that emerged from that plunge is now evolving into this mobile café. 

A good meal can become an anchor for conversation, engagement, friendship, and building bridges of care and connection within our community. Our new StreetGreens food truck would be a social enterprise in the spirit of the Zen Peacemakers, who created the Greyston Bakery under Bernie Glassman’s leadership as a skillful means of practice in our world. While we would begin by relying on Bread Loaf Mountain residents and volunteers to supply free meals, our longer-term vision for StreetGreens is to create diverse settings in our community where people can experience the wholeness of life by mixing across economic boundaries, training for meaningful work, and tending to the basic needs of others. 

We don’t practice to feed people – we feed people to practice. The ultimate intent of this project is to help people who have fallen into the cracks of our community experience the interconnection and the oneness of life. We will be guided by the Zen Peacemaker precepts and our vocation to serve in the forgotten and often abandoned places. Asking for financial gifts to support this work is the Zen Peacemaker practice of Raising a Mala. I hope you will join us in this practice.

Next Steps, Short and Long

Since the Café in Rutland closed, Bread Loaf Mountain Zen Community has been delivering fresh homemade meals to people who are unable to prepare healthy food for themselves. We’ve been cooking in our small kitchen and delivering those meals out of the trunk of our car. 

We went from preparing 40 lunches one day a week at the Café before the pandemic to 150 meals a week, and the demand continues to grow. There has always been a food distribution challenge in this rural environment, and now local nonprofits need more assistance than ever in meeting the increased food needs of the community. 

Phase 1: This summer and well into the fall, as we anticipate a protracted pandemic and possible new waves of infection and social distancing, we will focus on working collaboratively with other food-distributing organizations serving free home-cooked meals to people at risk for homelessness. 

  • Establish the management team of Joshin Byrnes, Peggy Reishin Murray, and Johny Daigan Widell
  • Complete the purchase and permitting of the truck
  • Train BLMZC residents and interested volunteers in the practice of preparing food, fundraising, and running the food truck
  • Train front line workers in spiritual hospitality and companionship skills
  • Partner with a local church for use of a commercial kitchen; Partner with Middlebury College to establish a community service partnership for students
  • Coordinate with homelessness-serving organizations in Middlebury and Rutland to create strong partnerships and operational efficiencies
  • Establish cost-management, purchasing, sourcing, menu planning, and permitting infrastructure
  • Build capacity to prepare and deliver 500+  meals a week by summer’s end

Phase 2: The winter months will give us the opportunity to add on a “Pay-What-You-Can” component to the food truck, to launch in early spring 2021. 

  • Train management, residents and volunteers in the One World Everybody Eats model
  • Finalize commercial menus, refine sourcing of ingredients, and meet all health code requirements for commercial food service
  • Develop outreach and PR systems for a commercial social enterprise
  • Identify, register for, and advertise one paying event per week for the summer

Phase 3: Perhaps as early as summer 2021, but certainly by spring 2022, offer two or three jobs to people who face barriers to employment.  

  • Establish partnerships with job training programs like Vermont Youthworks and the VT Department of Workforce Development
  • Train supervisors at BLMZC in workforce development protocols
  • Train, monitor, and graduate 2 or 3 paid interns by the end of the selling season

Our Request

I am asking you to consider jumpstarting this unique effort with a charitable contribution. We already have confirmed $25,000 in commitments and would like to raise another $25,000. Your generous contributions towards this goal will allow us to benefit many vulnerable people within our community. Furthermore, as we anticipate more waves of Covid-19 over time, we believe that our meal delivery systems will not only feed people and provide neighborly connections, but will also provide a means of limiting transmission of the virus by allowing people to shelter in place more comfortably. Thank you. 

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