12 Baskets Summer 2011

Page 1


“Water is life.” Elena Davis offers hope in a bottle

A clinic founded by students

A surprising donation

More MLF success stories



A Medical Home


Medical students create a clinic for Community First! residents.

17 H ope In a Bottle

A nonprofit’s effort to get water to the homeless.

SHARE THIS ISSUE Please use the sharing tools at the top of the screen to share ths issue.

22 F ree to Be Happy

The miraculous story of Peggy and the home she’s always wanted.

Advocacy 04 06 08 10


Glove Box Kit Remarkable Gift A Be a Befriender Everything I Own

26 M LF Ministry Update 28 Letter from Alan 01

Editor’s Letter A Follow-Up: Ben finds a new home Nobody makes their dreams come true without perseverance and hard work. And that’s certainly true for Ben Cordero, a formerly homeless man from New York City, now living the life of a horseman on a ranch in East Texas. I interviewed Cordero for the past issue of 12 Baskets. I met him at his then home, an RV on a few acres of land he was renting just outside of East Austin. The land itself was unremarkable, but what Cordero had done with it was amazing. In a few months, on his own in the middle of winter, he’d built a stable and corral, and retrained an un-ridable horse so that he could ride it at a trot. He’d dreamed of living on a ranch his whole life. Here, he’d almost made that dream come true. When Shannon Decraene read the story about Cordero, she was impressed. But she was also struck by the coincidence. Decraene, who owns a ranch in Athens, Texas, had been trying to hire someone to help care for and train the 15 horses she’d gathered to form a ministry, but none of her previous hires had stuck around. She’d been praying for direction. “I’d say, ‘Lord, I’ve got 15 horses and I’m praying to find a way to use these horses to help people, but I need help!’ Then I think God sent Ben to me.” Decraene called her father in Austin. She asked him to visit Cordero and check him out. Her father did so, and he seemed very pleased with Cordero, his work ethic and what he’d accomplished. So that Easter weekend, when Decraene was in Austin with her family, she went to visit Cordero. “He wasn’t doing a lot with his horse, but it certainly wasn’t wild,” Decraene remembers. She told him about the job, offered him a modest salary, and Cordero told her he’d have to come to the ranch first and check it out.




12 Baskets is the online magazine for Mobile Loaves & Fishes, providing food and clothing, and promoting dignity, to our homeless brothers and sisters in need. “I think it shows a lot about Ben that he didn’t just jump at it,” says Decraene. After visiting the ranch, Cordero accepted the job. He moved his RV to the ranch this spring, and with his salary has begun making home improvements. Moreover, he’s getting the training he’ll need to manage the horses, thanks to the mentoring of a rancher nearby. “He’s learning the skills to be a great horesman,” says Decraene. Cordero’s dream had come true. “Ben comes home from work every day with a grin on his face. It’s wonderful,” says Decraene. “You just almost see the miracle happen right before your eyes.”

Monica Williams, Editor


Editor . . . . . . Monica williams Managing Editor . . . . . . . Taylor graham Art Director . . Torquil Dewar OCTOBER CUSTOM PUBLISHING, LLC Contributors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . jonathan garza Vicky Garza BLythe plunkett sean mathis annie ray chantal rice Joel salcido Shelley Seale Copyright Progress Publishing, Austin, Texas. 2011. All rights reserved. For more information about 12 baskets, contact info@12basketsmagazine.org or visit www.12basketsmagazine.org


What’s in Your Glove Box? Keep these items handy for the next time you see someone flying a sign. by Taylor Graham

Panhandlers tend to get a pretty bad rap, but despite your personal opinions about their way of making money, they are still human beings with the same basic needs as everyone else. Unlike all of us in our temperature-controlled cars, however, they are outside in the elements 24/7, no matter if it is 105 or 30 degrees. Next time you see a panhandler, help a brother or sister out! Money is always easy to give, but it is not the only thing they need. Here are a few simple suggestions of items to keep in your “glove box kit.” Make sure they can withstand the heat or cold of your car so they’re always ready.


These simple items can be a blessing to someone in need. When you hand these out, remember to respect the person’s dignity. A gesture as simple as a smile can help someone get through his day. 1. Bottle Water 2. P B or Cheese


3. Gift Cards 4. T ravel-Size Toiletries 5. S ocks 6. Tuna & Crackers Kits 7. D og Food 8. Bus Passes 05

Advocate MLF Project Receives Remarkable Gift A surprise donation changes everything. by Taylor Graham

The Genesis Gardens project, formerly known as Karpophoreo, of Mobile Loaves & Fishes’ Community First! housing program works to empower the formerly homeless by teaching them the skills to grow small urban gardens, providing healthy food for them and their neighbors while also fostering a strong sense of community among the participants. In an effort to increase funding resources, Genesis Gardens recently applied for a grant from A Glimmer Of Hope for just over $3000. Some of the board members from Glimmer of Hope visited Mobile Loaves & Fishes to check out their operations and hear a presentation on the Genesis Gardens program. After that presentation at the MLF headquarters, the Glimmer representatives asked if they could speak among themselves for a few minutes to discuss their plan of action. No more than five minutes passed, and they were ready to reconvene. To the shock and surprise of everyone at MLF, A Glimmer of Hope announced that they had approved the grant request but not for the $3000 requested; instead, A Glimmer of Hope had decided to grant the Genesis Gardens project a whopping $20,000! Ask and you shall receive, right? Genesis Gardens is excited and honored to have received such a generous grant. The program is using the gift to hire Stephanie Asmus, the new Community Connection Coordinator. Stephanie is working to increase Genesis Gardens’ connection with the local community as well as strengthen its online communications and online presence. LEARN MORE about Genesis Gardens at www.mlf.org.

Ask and you shall receive, right? Genesis Gardens is excited and honored to have received such a generous grant.



Advocate An Opportunity to Change Someone’s Life - and Yours Over the past five years, MLF has refurbished 50 gently used RVs and has lifted more than 60 people off the streets of Austin. To help new residents adapt to their new lives, MLF offers “Befrienders,” people who help a Community First! resident with some of the basic needs of everyday life, and in time, build mutual friendships. In this issue we profiled Peggy, a formerly homeless woman who moved into an RV home (see page 24). Peggy had the benefit of MLF Befrienders, who encouraged her to apply for a home and stood by her during the wait. They helped her get acclimated to her new home and visited her regularly to let her know someone cared. And they were available when she had a special need and helped her without waiting to be asked. MLF is always seeking new Befrienders to help our residents adapt to their new lives. The time commitment is a minimum of twice a month for about three hours each time. Befrienders and residents set times based on their mutual availability, and many keep in touch over phone calls in between visits. If you’d like to have a huge impact in someone’s life and feel like you have the ability to help one of our brothers or sisters in need, please email befrienders@mlf.org.


MLF is always seeking new Befrienders to help our residents adapt to their new lives.

Everything I Own

Name: Russell Self Age: 55 Location: Austin Originally From: Austin Interviewed by: Blythe Plunkett Photographed by: Sean Mathis

Russell’s possessions include: • Blanket/Bed Roll • Backpack • Baby Stroller • Radio • Clothing • Eye glasses • Watch • Tent • Blackjack/Pente games • Wallet


Russell describes himself as “a big-hearted, homeless, white guy.” His interests are survival, art and music. His most important possession is his Black Jack game, given to him by a close friend he’s lived on the street with for years. His longest owned possession is his wallet, given to him in 1999 by his daughter. His previous belongings were all awarded to his ex-wife in their divorce or they were lost when the van he was living in was stolen.


Clinic on Wheels Medical students form a clinic for Austin’s Community First! residents. by Monica Williams As a boy in West Austin, Michael Leasure volunteered with Mobile Loaves & Fishes. He enjoyed the feeling of helping people, and later in life, chose a career that would allow him to keep doing so. Today, Leasure is a fourth-year medical student at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. In Galveston, medical students have a chance to volunteer at a free, student-run local clinic, seeing patients, filing medical records and more, all supervised by UTMB professors. Leasure enjoyed the work, but he and medical-school roommate Aasim Afzal thought there was a similar Michael Leasure need in Leasure’s hometown. His first thought was to create a medical clinic for clients of Mobile Loaves & Fishes. “A lot of the patience we see at the clinic have a history of medical problems or they have a small problem that might get worse because they can’t get medical help,” says Leasure. “Our main goal in setting up this clinic is to give these patients a medical home.” The student-run clinic now operates once a month out of a crowded but comfortable RV in the Royal Palms RV community, where many of the MLF clients live. The student-run clinic first started seeing patients in September 2010, and sees about 17 patients on a regular basis.


Medical student Margaret Wardlow examines Avon Owens, a long-time Royal Palms resident with a few chronic medical conditions. The makeshift examination room is in one of the small bedrooms within the RV, which houses many of MLF’s other community-building programs at other times of the week. Owens has been examined by a number of medical students, but a physician also examines Owens — and every other patient — to ensure students’ diagnosis and recommendations are on the right track. In all, each patient spends about 45 minutes in the clinic. Afzal, one of the clinic’s founders, says, “It takes lots of time to understand the patient’s medical condition and history, and we often get to talk to them about lifestyle changes that can affect their health.”

Leasure stresses that the medical students alone can’t support the health of the clinic’s clients. His goal is to create a community of caregivers that would include nursing students, counselors, therapists and social workers, as well as medical students. “These patients really need expertise in negotiating Medicaid and other benefits programs.” Early on, he worked with Seton Hospital to access to its lab services on a limited basis. “Seton’s been really great about helping us,” says Leasure. As many as 13 medical clinic staff, all volunteers, almost all in training, squeeze into the RV to examine about half as many patients, all of them formerly homeless, now living in the RV community of Royal Palms. Royal Palms is the RV park that the Austin Mobile Loaves & Fishes places some of its RVs and residents. It’s also where MLF is building a support network — a community — that will lift up our people out of homelessness and on their way to self-actualization.


“We hope to address lifestyle changes for these patients,” says Leasure, “so we can help these individuals move forward with their lives. They’ve had so many things working against them”

Tim, a resident of an MLF home says he “gets fed 1-2 times a day,” comes in to get his blood drawn. Tim has been a patient at the clinic since the beginning. Medical students see a variety of ailments: from high blood glucose levels, high cholesterol, infections, warts, and other primary-care situations to epilepsy, liver malfunction and congestive heart failure. Underlying these ailments, says Afzal, is the challenge of communicating with patients, some of who have not had experience talking to physicians about their health. Medical problems are also affected by issues other low-income people face: limited access to medical care, nutritious foods and exercise, and often a sense of loneliness, helplessness and, sometimes, emotional issues from living on the streets. By building a multidisciplinary team of care specialist, Leasure says he thinks the clinic can help MLF clients navigate the medical system and learn to manage their health better. Says Leasure, “This is an incredibly vulnerable population.”


L-R: Aasim Afzal, Yvonne Chung, Dr. Lysbeth Miller and Isela Arieta

“Medical students have a desire to help people,” says Afzal. “It’s why we got into the profession.”


One nonprofit’s fight to get water to the homeless. By Chantal Rice, photography by Jonathan Garza It only takes a second to imagine how a homeless person could suffer from dehydration. In Austin, Texas, for example, it’s been over 100 degrees for more than 60 days in a row. Being outside all day and night with no running water and no place to wash or take a drink can be dangerous, especially if you’re also suffering from an illness, health condition or disability. While many of us worry about our lawns turning brown, hundreds of thousands of people in the United States scramble for a fresh drink of water every day. Elena Davis is trying to change that, one 16.9-ounce, inspirationally labeled bottle of purified drinking water at a time. In 2008, Davis founded the Houston-based nonprofit I Am Waters Foundation to provide bottled water and a sense of hope to the homeless community. Her work is founded in thorough research about people’s access to drinking water.




In modern America, many number of men, believe the homeless can access women and children clean drinking water at public water using an emergency fountains, bathrooms and shelters. shelter or transitional After conducting a comprehensive living center in the U.S. study, Davis’ foundation discovered between October 2008 and September 2009: that people without a home are often not welcome in public places. (Less than 10 percent of homeless surveyed said they use public water fountains or receive water Estimated number from a store or of homeless in the restaurant.) And most U.S. on a single night (more than 40 percent) in January 2009: said they scrounge for money to purchase bottled water. While shelters provide free Estimated drinking water, many do not number of Texans allow patrons to take water off the who experience premises, nor do they have the homelessness on any capacity to meet water demands.



given day

“The message on the bottle is meant to provide spiritual revival, to help them not forget to have hope, no matter their circumstance.”

79,000 Davis’ inspiration for I Am Waters evolved from a variety of influences, not the least of which was that Davis herself was raised in abject poverty. She rescued herself from that situation by pursuing a successful modeling career and now lives a comfortable life with her husband and children. “But a sense of not belonging has always been strong in me,” Davis says. “That’s a characteristic of many homeless as well; feeling like you’re not wanted, like you’re a drifter.”

In fact, some two-thirds of homeless people in Houston surveyed reported they were not certain on a daily basis whether they could find clean drinking water, with 86 percent claiming they had experienced heat-related injuries because they didn’t have access to clean drinking water.


A series of events, culminating in an encounter with a homeless woman at an intersection begging not for money or food, but for water, struck a strong chord with Davis, and from an inspired epiphany sprung I Am Waters. The nonprofit began delivering bottles of water to Houston shelters and homeless agencies in the summer of 2010. Emblazoned with an artful design featuring one of two inspirational words (“peace” or “hope”), the bottles were meant to provide both physical and spiritual hydration for the homeless. “When you’re homeless, you’re in survival mode, and that can be very hard on your self-esteem,” Davis

says. “The message on the bottle is meant to provide spiritual revival, to help them not forget to have hope, no matter their circumstance.” The sentiment rang true with Houston’s homeless, and in its first summer, I Am Waters delivered nearly 80,000 bottles of water. The positive results of providing both water and an inspirational message were staggering, with about 54 percent of staff at participating shelters saying they saw an attitude change in their clients receiving the I Am Waters bottles. Additionally, half of the shelters reported that the water donations freed up institutional resources for other important needs.


Average daytime temperature in Central Texas during the hottest time of the year:


Percentage of surveyed homeless who said they use public water fountains:

Less than 10

Percentage of surveyed homeless who said they received drinking water from a shelter:

This summer, the hottest on record for much of Texas, has found I Am Waters expanding to Fort Worth and Austin, distributing about 300,000 bottles of water to 15 shelters and homeless organizations across the three cities. The nonprofit has also partnered with Number of the University of I Am Waters California, Los bottles distributed Angeles, in an effort in 2010: to study related issues of the homeless’ access to clean drinking water. And, by next summer, I Am Waters plans to expand, with the goal of Projected distributing nearly 800,000 bottles number of I of water, about half a million of Am Waters bottles those in Texas alone. distributed to the “Water is life,” says Davis, homeless in 2011: “and if one bottle can in any way help a homeless person take the next step out of homelessness, then I believe we are making a valuable contribution.”





Finally, Peggy’s in a place where she can be what she’s always wanted to be — herself. By Shelley Seale, photos by Annie Ray ike many people living on the streets, Peggy faced the difficulties of finding a safe place to sleep each night, protecting herself from abuse, dealing with the contempt of people she encountered, and simply having something to eat — which often came out of a dumpster. But Peggy also had to deal with another, often-greater challenge: a birthdefect disability that left her without arms or legs, wheelchair-bound. “My mom took a teaspoon [of Thalidomide] in her first trimester, for a toothache. And that’s what happened to me.” Peggy has hands and feet, but is missing her limbs.



a handout. I was still smiling all the Originally from Georgia, Peggy time. I have to.” moved to Austin in the 1980s. She During those years on the had plans to buy a house with a street, Peggy came to rely on friend, who had cerebral palsy. “I the Mobile Loaves & Fishes food paid on the house for six years, and trucks, which often provided her then I lost it.” Her friend required only meal. Through the MLF food assisted living, and the two had to program, Peggy learned about give up the home. At the time, Peggy Community First!, the MLF outreach was also in an abusive relationship. that provides affordable, permanent “He took a lot of my money, too,” housing for chronically homeless she says. She felt she had nowhere people. else to turn. CF! operates in She decided to five for-profit trailer move into a nursing home parks around home – but she was Austin, and potential abused there, as well. residents must apply It seemed there was and be able to pay no one on her side. rent. At first, she After three days, she thought it sounded left. It was then that too good to be true. her nearly decade“I’d heard a lot of long life on the promises that didn’t streets began. come through,” she “Congress and says, “but MLF kept Ben White was my theirs.” safety zone,” Peggy “Now I don’t want Peggy applied says. “I had friends for the program, on the street, but to leave my house, I although her situation they can also turn on don’t want to go out was complicated you. There was a lot because she needed of abuse.” Being in there. This is my a wheelchaira wheelchair leaves house, my safety accessible trailer. It Peggy vulnerable to took three months dangerous situations and security.” from the time she beyond even what an applied to find a able-bodied person home that worked for her, and get it must face. And unless she could find delivered and set up with plumbing an outlet to recharge her electric and electricity. She moved into her wheelchair, she was completely new home in December 2009. immobile. It was the first roof over her On top of all this, Peggy faced head in more than nine years, but the heartless derision of the people things didn’t magically change passing by. overnight. Although her external and “Those people in their nice material circumstances were vastly cars, with their kids, going to a nice improved, the internalized trauma house to cook dinner – and they caused by so much suffering was look at me all grumpy and angry. harder to vanquish. Why? I’m eating out of a dumpster “It was scary,” Peggy recalls. tonight. I was just trying to take “When I was indoors it was like care of myself, I wasn’t asking for


entrapment of a sorts – I didn’t know how to deal with it.” Fortunately, MLF was able to provide Peggy with a counselor, a woman named Catherine who was once homeless herself. “Catherine helped me so much. Now I don’t want to leave my house, I don’t want to go out there. This is my house, my safety and security,” Peggy says with an obvious sense of ownership. She’s made friends in the community, where MLF provides doctor visits, some food, work placement assistance and

community events such as movie night and Bible study. MLF has built a community around her, a family. Peggy has a computer now, and enjoys interacting online. She has also begun creating some beautiful pen-and-ink artwork, which she hopes to sell as posters and cards. Peggy says that if she can do it, other people can too. “MLF has my back, and no one’s ever had my back before. I’m not gonna let nothing get me down – I can’t. The best thing about my house is that I’m free to be happy.”


Our Friends in Need:

Updates on MLF Affiliates Austin

Mobile Loaves & Fishes’ St. Thomas More commissary gave kids a taste of the ministry’s mission through a summer camp called “Life on the Streets.” The 200 students who attended the week-long camps were taught social justice lessons and how to put their faith in action. Activities included a survival hunt, making plastic bag survival kits to distribute, baking and decorating cookies to give out on the trucks, loading the truck for its run, and a field day. The ministry also teamed up with the local school district and the kids prepared lunches that were delivered to areas where there are a lot of children on free and reduced lunch programs. MLF Austin plans to expand the summer camp next year so that more kids can participate.


From cooking hot meals to hosting camps and running trucks twice a day, Mobile Loaves & Fishes Nashville has had a very busy summer. A lot of energy has developed around MLF Nashville’s “Hot Meal” program. Twice a week volunteers get creative cooking fresh and healthy meals from food donated directly from local farms, harvested from MLF gardens, or collected from other local agencies or the farmer’s market. MLF Nashville continues to engage youth through its weeklong Urban Land Scout camp. A dozen middle school youth harvested produce, prepared garden beds, picked public fruit trees, cooked lunch, made seed bombs and took produce back to their communities. The ministry’s garden program continues to grow. MLF Nashville grows produce on two urban plots and hosts educational workshops with at-risk youth in each location.

If you would like to help a specific MLF community or program with a tax-deductible financial donation, they are easily accepted online at www.mlfnow.org.


San Antonio / St. Francis of Assisi MLF

This summer, Mobile Loaves & Fishes San Antonio at St. Francis of Assisi was fortunate to get some additional help. Two youth groups from Dallas arrived in June to assist with meal preparation, deliveries and clothing donations. In August, a group of youth and their chaperones from Houston helped with cleaning out the delivery truck and sorting and bagging about 50 packs of school supplies from St. Francis of Assisi’s July school supply drive. This summer, MLF at St. Francis of Assisi participated with Catholic Charities to celebrate World Refugee Day by inviting refugee clients to help prepare a lunch meal. The group then delivered the meal to fellow refugee families at one of the regular meal sites.


To thank its hardworking volunteers and strengthen its volunteer community, Mobile Loaves & Fishes Minneapolis is holding a picnic for its volunteers in September. Volunteers and anyone else interested in serving the homeless, are welcome. MLF Minneapolis has also begun planning its 2nd Annual Earnie Larson Fundraiser, which will be held in April. MLF Minneapolis is a collaborative project of St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church and Knox Presbyterian Church. Volunteers from each community come together to serve in the Minneapolis community, but more are needed to help expand delivery days to the weekend.

Students from Houston washed out the inside of the back end of the truck, then sorted clothing and school supplies to be handed out to families along the truck’s route.


Vital Signs by . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ALAN GRAHAM

There are two things I’d like you to think about: Water and 98.6 degrees. As you probably know, our core body temperature is 98.6 degrees. Even the slightest rise in our core temperature can have ill effects, including nausea, vomiting, spasms and deterioration of fine and complex motor skills. That is just from a less than a half degree increase in our core body temperature. Why is this important and what does water have to do with it? Well, staying well hydrated is one of the keys to maintaining your core body temperature at that magic 98.6 degrees. Water is the fluid our bodies use as its radiator. If you don’t put enough water into the radiator, you will suffer.

“... when you hand a bottle of water to someone who has struggled all day to find it, you not only help restore their soul, you restore yours as well.” I am certain that all of us have experienced some level of dehydration at some point in our lives. Most of us however take water for granted. After all it seems so plentiful. For most of us it might be, but if you are homeless — incredibly — it is not as plentiful as one would think.


Of all the indignities people face when they are experiencing homelessness, it is incredile to think that here in the United States, there are thousands of people dying of thirst and overcome by the heat. Having spent about 100 nights on the streets with our brothers and sisters, I can tell you that drinkable water can be hard to come by. In downtown Austin for example, there are very few water facilities available to the public, including people who are experiencing homelessness. That’s one reason I carry an ice chest full of bottled water in the back of my truck to hand out to the folks I see around town, regardless if they are homeless. In these 105-degree days we are having in Austin (as I write this we have broken a record held since 1925 of 69 days of over 100 degree days) it is imperative we look out for those who have fewer opportunities than we do. Right now we are running a “Give Water” campaign. With a gift to MLF of just $30, we could purchase180 bottles of water. That allows us to keep extra on our truck and stock volunteers with enough to hand out all over town. Water is life. When you hand a bottle of water to someone who has struggled all day to find it, you not only help restore their soul, you restore yours as well.