Feeding the Homeless by Bike
This story by Aurelio Jose Barrera first appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of the League’s magazine, American Bicyclist. All photos by Barrera.
One or two mornings each week I wake before 5 a.m. and load up my Yuba Mundo with food to deliver to my homeless neighbors in East Los Angeles.
It started in September 2013, when I had a heart attack and was told I needed to change my lifestyle. For six months I only walked. One cold morning I was considering returning home when I saw two figures shivering under a sheet sleeping on a bus bench. Soon after that I started to collect blankets and food for the homeless in my neighborhood.
All the food I distribute is donated. People who live in my neighborhood allow me to pick oranges, lemons, and grapefruits from their trees. Pedro, who runs Listo Produce, donates a 40-pound box of oranges, tangerines, peaches, or bananas monthly, and KIND Snacks recently donated five cases of snack bars.
At first, I used my wife’s old bike equipped with two worn panniers and a blue plastic milk crate attached to a rear rack. The 30 to 60 pounds of food and water made the bike unstable — more than once it tipped over spilling oranges and water bottles onto the sidewalk.
Several months ago Yuba Bicycles offered me a new Mundo cargo bike, which allows me to carry the loads more easily, but, more importantly, the double kickstand lets me get off the bike. I can now hand people food without worrying the bike will tip over. Some of the homeless are amputees or are in wheelchairs and I no longer have to toss them oranges and hope they catch them.
It’s still dark when I set out and normally the only sounds I hear are dogs barking and a rooster crowing as I ride toward the main boulevard. I pass closed restaurants and hair salons, a dry cleaner and a bakery. At my first stop, only five blocks from my home, I deliver food to three men who sleep in front of a shoe store. A year ago, one of the men would often curse at me and tell me to get lost; now he tells me to be careful riding on the street.
I continue to ride down Whittier Boulevard and dark alleys looking for men and women sleeping in doorways, beside trash bins, on stairs. Behind a craft supply store a group of eight men and women sleep in blanket on the parking lot floor. I greet them with a loud “Good morning! Buenos Dias!” I hand them food and get on my bike towards home. “Que dios lo bendiga” (God bless you) several of them yell out as I ride away.
Aurelio Jose Barrera is a stay-at-home dad, grandfather and former photojournalist in the Los Angeles area for 25 years. To donate, please visit www.gofundme.com/fruitbybike.