- Associated Press - Saturday, December 26, 2015

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) - Burrito Brigade, that’s their name.

A group of roughly 20 to 40 people get together each Sunday to cook, assemble and hand out homemade vegan burritos to homeless and hungry residents in Eugene and Springfield. About 500 burritos are crafted each Sunday in the basement kitchen of downtown Eugene’s First Christian Church, and delivered to various parks and homeless camps in the area.

As with most burritos, the process starts with the beans.

Brian Bray, 55, begins weighing out beans and spices each Saturday night in preparation for the burrito frenzy. When he’s finished soaking the beans, Bray cooks them in a high-powered propane cooker and ends up with about 200 pounds of cooked beans.

Most of the time the group puts a mix of beans in their burritos - this Sunday’s meals featured pinto, white and lentil varieties.

Bray, a volunteer organizer for the brigade, spends about eight hours each week on the project and said while it takes up most of his Sunday, there’s nowhere else he’d rather be.

“It’s so fun,” Bray said. “Who would want to do anything else with their Sunday?”

Bray said what attracted him to the group in April was the simplicity of the concept.

“It’s so beautifully simple,” Bray said. “Give us some food and money and we’ll make burritos and hand them out to the hungry people of the community.”

While he loves making burritos, Bray said he wants to provide more to the homeless than just food.

“People should have dignity,” he said. “And standing hungry on the street isn’t dignity. We can help with that.”

Lisa Levsen, another organizer, said other ingredients mixed into the burritos include rice, red and green bell peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, kale, spinach, bok choy, parsley, tomatoes, lime, carrots, zucchini, a green leafy salad mix and avocados

“We want them to be rich in vitamins and protein,” she said. “Someone gave us a case of avocados this week. We don’t usually get that, so it’s sort of a big deal.”

Levsen said ingredients for the 500 burritos would cost about $250 a week if the nonprofit group had to pay for it all.

Fortunately, several local businesses and organizations donate to the cause in one way or another.

Trader Joe’s donates at least three cases of just-expired tortillas that volunteers check for mold. Value Village in Springfield provides reusable water bottles, and many Lane County residents grow vegetables from their gardens to donate to the brigade.

While the Burrito Brigade may seem to be running like a well-oiled machine, it didn’t start out as such a big production.

In early February 2014, a handful of people got together in a friend’s kitchen, Levsen said. They cooked up beans, vegetables and rice and made as many burritos as they could before handing them out.

The first batch was about 50 burritos, according to Levsen, who said the location of the burrito assembly has jumped around from home kitchens to larger, commercial kitchens. Now, the brigade pays First Christian Church $50 a month to use its kitchen, Levsen said.

The brigade hasn’t missed a single Sunday since its inception.

Jim Winter, 38, a longtime volunteer for the group, said the experience is invaluable.

“The first time I was here I went on drops to all the (homeless) camps and it really opened my eyes,” Winter said. “I knew it was bad, but I really had no idea. I think everyone at some point should do this.”

Standing in a circle near the corner at Eighth Avenue and Oak Street, where many homeless people camp out, about 10 brigade volunteers grabbed as many burritos as their arms could carry on Sunday and began asking just one question:

“Would you like a burrito?”

___

Information from: The Register-Guard, https://www.registerguard.com


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