Homeless men and women eagerly wait for The Chow Train every Tuesday night at Maverick Park to receive a warm, healthy meal. Last night the park filled with dozens more volunteers as the Tuesday Night Bike Club members, eager to celebrate the holiday season, passed out care packages to those in need.
Joan Cheever is the founder of The Chow Train, a nonprofit food truck, that serves food to the local homeless population at locations throughout San Antonio. Tuesday night, Cheever and the Bike Club stopped by three other locations in the city to hand out food and packages of winter clothes and supplies before the final stop at Maverick Park, which always draws the biggest crowds.
Cheever received a $2,000 citation last April for serving food without a permit at Maverick Park, which the City later dismissed after significant local and national outcry. City Council on Wednesday will consider a plan, presented by City staff and San Antonio Police Department Chief William McManus, that will address the food handlers ordinance and how to go about better management and care for the city's homeless population.
"Law enforcement, forever, has tried one method of dealing with the homeless and that’s by strong-arming them, by arresting them. That doesn’t work,” McManus said in September when he returned to his position as chief after a nine-month retirement. All that does is spark controversy in the community, “so we’re going to deal with it in an entirely different way and I think it will be favorable to homeless advocates, favorable to the media who is going to be watching this, and of course favorable to the the homeless.”
“It’s good to put a face to the homeless in San Antonio, because the homeless and hungry are everywhere, it’s not just one part of town,” Cheever said. “It’s great having the Tuesday Night Bike Club here, because it means other people are taking notice and want to help too.”
More than 250 bike riders were in attendance on Tuesday, decked in ugly Christmas sweaters and bright bicycle lights. Christmas carols blasted from a wireless speaker as more than 60 homeless and hungry individuals lined up for dinner. The air filled with the aroma of freshly baked lasagna and hot soup as multiple volunteers passed out plates.
Jeff Moore, Club Co-founder, said the event marked the biggest collaboration with The Chow Train to date.
“Every Tuesday we would ride by here and we would see homeless people gather here and Joan Cheever feeding them,” Moore said. “Norma Jean ('Lady Marshall' for the cycling club) decided we needed to do something, too, so we started collecting items that we knew they would need.”
No one can recall whether this is the second or third collaboration for the two organizations, but they know that the growing effort is helping many people. Bike Club members put together more than 120 care packages for the homeless, filling each bag with gloves, socks,hats, toothbrushes and other hygiene products.
“We actually have more bags than people,” Moore said. “But we’ll ask Joan how to get them to other people, we may just come back.”
Volunteers stood from the back of a pickup truck as they passed out clean, used jackets and sweaters to people who were grateful for warmth in the dropping temperatures.
“Joan has always been so kind to me,” said Robert Rodriguez, a Chicago native who became homeless five years ago when he arrived in San Antonio and was told the position he moved for had already been filled. “She feeds us such good food, and it’s so nice to see the bikers again.”
The coming weeks will see more homeless children with their families, as they are out of school for the holidays. Children also make up the largest part of the national homeless population.
“That’s really heartbreaking," Cheever said. “Sometimes when (individuals) are chronically homeless they’re so far down they can’t see up and sometimes it’s just a situation like a job loss or medical emergency. ... The faces of homelessness are so different in this city, but we will always be here, serving food, every Tuesday night."
*Top Image: Makayla, 11, hands a bag full of goods to Carlton Walker. Photo by Scott Ball.