Each month, the Austin Young Chamber will highlight a member who is doing extraordinary work to strengthen our businesses, our community…or both! Showcasing their achievements is just one way we can put a spotlight on the talented, collaborative, and community-focused workforce we have here in Central Texas.
This month we honor Mobile Loaves & Fishes, a social outreach ministry that has been empowering communities into a lifestyle of service with the homeless for more than two decades. We talked with Thomas Aitchison, Communications Director at Mobile Loaves & Fishes, about their mission, what their plans are for the future, and how the community can get involved in their efforts.
AYC: Tell us a little bit about who you are, who you serve and how you support them.
Thomas: Mobile Loaves & Fishes (MLF) is a social outreach ministry that has been empowering communities into a lifestyle of service with the homeless for more than two decades. Founded in 1998, MLF began when founder and CEO Alan Graham and five friends boldly answered God’s call to “love your neighbor” by delivering meals from the back of a minivan to men and women living on the streets of Austin. After realizing their approach for serving the homeless had flaws, the group sought guidance from a formerly homeless man to help perfect the food truck model that MLF successfully uses today.
Today, with the support of more than 20,000 volunteers, Mobile Loaves & Fishes is the largest prepared feeding program to the homeless in Central Texas and has spawned similar food truck programs in other cities across the country.
Complementing its truck ministry, Mobile Loaves & Fishes is also the visionary behind Austin’s innovative Community First! Village—a 51-acre master planned development that provides affordable, permanent housing and a supportive community for the chronically homeless in Central Texas. Additionally, Mobile Loaves & Fishes’ Community Works program provides micro-enterprise opportunities that enable formerly homeless men and women to earn a dignified income, develop new skills and cultivate enduring relationships as they take part in a restorative journey home.
AYC: Community First! Village is in expansion mode. What are the plans and timelines for the growth?
Thomas: In April, Mobile Loaves & Fishes announced plans for a major expansion of Community First! Village. Located in northeast Travis County, Community First! Village currently is home to more than 250 formerly homeless men and women who live in permanent homes in the 51-acre community. MLF’s expansion of Community First! includes the addition of two new phases to the master planned development. Phase 3 of Community First! Village will be located on an adjoining piece of land near the neighborhood’s current location on Hog Eye Road. Phase 4 is the first expansion of Community First! Village that will be located in a new location on Burleson Road.
The two new phases add a combined 127 acres to Community First! Village, and make room for 1,400 new micro-homes. The expansion grows the total size of Community First! Village to 178 acres—more than triple the current size of the development—on which 1,900 micro-homes will exist for men and women who are coming out of chronic homelessness, along with those who provide support and care for them. Development of both Phase 3 and Phase 4 of Community First! Village is expected to begin in the summer of 2022.
AYC: Mobile Loaves & Fishes is a Corporate Member of the Austin Young Chamber. What is one thing young professionals can do to support your mission?
Thomas: Get involved! Mobile Loaves & Fishes considers volunteers the heart of everything we do while serving our homeless neighbors who need us most. MLF firmly believes that housing alone will never solve homelessness, but community will! Seeking to build relationships with men and women who have experienced chronic homelessness can have a foundational and dignity-serving impact on one’s restorative journey—and volunteers are key to serving in this regard.
Volunteer opportunities are available with MLF’s truck ministry and also at the organization’s Community First! Village development. You can find currently available opportunities through MLF’s website here: mlf.org/volunteer
AYC: What challenges do we face as a community in providing care and support to those experiencing homelessness?
Thomas: There is not a city in our country that is immune to the pandemic of homelessness. It would be simple for anyone to sit back and think “someone else can fix that problem” or have an expectation that it’s an issue only your local government should try to tackle. MLF believes homelessness is an issue that requires the involvement of everyone across the entire community.
We all need to acknowledge what’s happening on our street corners and be willing to roll up our sleeves and get involved if we truly want to have a deeper, more meaningful impact on the lives of the men and women who are experiencing homelessness in our great city.
AYC: Would you provide a success story from your Ministry to show the life changing impact it has on those in our community?
Thomas: After suffering from debilitating osteoarthritis and not having enough money to pay for proper health care treatment, Tim Shea was unable to physically perform his job duties, which ultimately led to a loss of work and a loss of income. At age 62, Tim became homeless and was living on the streets, sleeping on the sidewalk of a vacant building. After initially being asked to relocate, the property owners felt the need to help Tim, moving him into a shed behind the property and then later to a used trailer. Tim eventually applied to live in Community First! Village, and has now been living here for nearly five years. He has made friends with his neighbors and other members throughout the community, and even became a “seed neighbor” in the newest phase of the Village to help welcome other men and women who move to the neighborhood.
Tim now lives in one of the 3D-printed micro-homes in Community First! Village—and by doing so became the first person in the United States to live in a 3D-printed home. Tim says, “I’ve found genuine caring here at the Village. People living their faith. I’m so appreciative for the generosity, love, commitment and friendship.”