For the last four years young people, many of whom are current and former Oregon State students, from Corvallis’s Grace City Church have taken to the streets once a week to spread food and fellowship to the local homeless population. ‘Bikes and Burritos’ as the program has been known has the purpose of furthering the church’s desire to encourage its members to “share a meal, share a mission, share my life” and get involved with the local community. Participants not only hand out hearty burritos on cold days and bottled water on warm days; they make a much needed human connection with people that many other Corvallis residents might hope to avoid.
This connection is not only beneficial for those receiving the gifts and support, it also serves those who are doing the giving. “For a lot of them they are blown away by how real they are, they’re just people,” said Paul Nkemontoh, a recent OSU graduate who serves as the group’s main organizer, regarding the reactions he has witnessed from past participants. “It breaks down a lot of thoughts they might have about homeless people- they have families, their just like everybody else.”
Since Paul joined the group last year he has been able to build a close rapport with many of Corvallis’s most vulnerable citizens acting as a friend and a companion to help walk with them through life’s most challenging issues. “They’re part of this community,” reiterated Paul as he prepared a new batch of burritos at Grace City’s main building adjacent to the OSU campus, “a lot of them have been here for 30 to 40 years, it’s their home.”
“I’ve never experienced a community like here, they are the most kind and noninvasive homeless community I have seen,” stated Hannah Stillwell who is also a recent OSU graduate and serves as a regular organizer for the group. Hannah, who is being trained as one of the church’s up and coming faith workers, has been able to lend a much needed female hand to the effort which allows here to connect with homeless women who are often leery of strangers. She knows firsthand that simply because people have problems, it does not mean that they themselves are problems. “I think that it’s unfortunate that people become problems based on their status.”
When asked if the introduction of a permanent homeless shelter would negatively affect the local community which heavily caters to OSU students, the group adamantly opposed such a notion. “It’s such a shame to assume that they would bring such disharmony,” stated Ms. Stillwell in regards to the clientele that would be served by a new shelter. Furthermore, she pointed out that students are benefited by being exposed to people and circumstances that fall outside their usual comfort zones. “If students encounter it, it might benefit societal norms,” Hannah stated as the group set out with burritos in hand, “I think the benefits outweigh the costs.”