Mobile Loaves & Fishes serves as a non-profit social outreach ministry that provides food and clothing, cultivates community, and promotes dignity to homeless men and women in need. For the past two decades, founder and CEO, Alan Graham has spent his time engaging with homeless men and women as a call to “love your neighbor”. Since 1998 Mobile Loaves & Fishes has served over 5 million meals, and today provides permanent housing at Community First! Village to more than 500 disabled, chronically homeless men and women.
Watch as Yvette Boatwright, Realty Austin’s Co-Owner, discusses with Alan his passion for giving back to the Austin community, the plans to grow his movement, and the simple solution for how we all can help defeat the stigmas surrounding homelessness.
Q. What drove you to get involved in your community all those years ago?
A. I’ve always been involved in the community. It started for me, in high school. I was the president of an organization called TAR’s which worked with intellectually disabled people. I’ve always had a heart and I’ve always been the guy that’s wanted to protect those that are being marginalized.
I had this spiritual revelation in 1996 and I asked God, “What do you want me to do?” and in 1998 he put on my heart the idea of the Mobile Loaves & Fishes food truck, and here I am 22 years later. The journey has been extraordinary.
Q. How have you seen the city change over the years?
A. I moved to Austin in 1976 so clearly I’ve seen the city change erratically from a college dominated town to the place we see today. I like Austin better today than I did then, but now you look at things like homelessness and the issues with justice that we’re battling right in our community. There are things in the community that we still need to work hard on in order to bring equity. It goes way beyond money, the community needs to get involved. In a lot of ways, Realty Austin and Mobile Loaves & Fishes are mirroring what the community should do. You need to jump into the issues that mean the most to you and throw yourself into that.
Q. Tell us about the unique success story that is Community First! Village
A. It’s an amazing place! A day doesn’t go by when I’m not blown away. Of course, you would expect the “Founder guy” to say that, but I think genuinely we are onto something really big and we’ve gained some national momentum. Living here and working here in this beautiful village, we get to see first-hand the impact it’s having on people’s lives and to me, it’s amazing to watch. I really think I live in the most diverse neighborhood in Austin, Texas because the people that live here virtually reflect all walks of life. I tell people it’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived but there is a ‘side salad’ of tension every now and then.
Q. What gets you out of bed in the morning?
A. I’ve always been that “get out of bed” guy. I get up early and my brain just starts going. It’s been a part of me even during tough times– and I’ve been through some pretty tough economic periods when I was working in the real estate industry. I believe there is so much more for us to do. Right now we have another 125 acres that we are in the middle of planning: 51 acres across from our East Austin community and another 76 acres in Southeast Austin. Those projects are going to amount to a very significant financial campaign that will blow people’s socks off when we formally announce it because it’s so huge. I think our city is ready to do something big, especially if you really want to mitigate what we see under the bridges and on the street corners. I’m excited to get up every day because there is still so much to do!
Q. What’s the most beautiful thing you’ve seen done at Community First! Village?
A. Little miracles happen almost every day here. We believe the single greatest cause of homelessness is the profound catastrophic loss of family. And that’s absolutely true in our population. They come from a place that is beyond horror, very traumatic stuff. To watch people move into the community who are legitimately, extraordinarily distressful because everything they should have trusted in their life was broken. Over time witnessing the flowering of a forged family that begins to emerge out of the giddiness of their life–without fixing them– but letting them discover that they are valuable, they are loved, and that they are known. That is a beautiful thing to see.
Q. What are some ways Austinites could help solve the homeless issues?
A. It’s all about relationships. We personally as a community, not Mobile Loaves & Fishes, not the service industries, not the government. We have to invest personal time into them. Some people, you have to invest more time in for a variety of reasons–which is what I’m learning. What we really want are people who not only want to invest in us financially, but build relationships as a community. Our fundraising philosophy is “heart over pocket”. I believe the money will come, but I would rather see you build a relationship with someone that probably has never had a relationship with someone like you before. Human to human, heart to heart.
Q. During ordinary times, what is the best way for people to get involved at Community First! Village?
A. Right now COVID-19 has us out of sync with volunteers. Normally, we would have 285 volunteers every single week and right now it’s zero. Our neighbors miss that activity at the village. We all do. There is so much to do here from building houses to working on the farm, from volunteering in the art house to the woodshop. We’ve even got a car care business for the mechanically savvy volunteers. And lastly, we have landscaping needs and just good old fashioned pulling weeds labor needs.
With Alan’s vision for combating homelessness sparking national attention, he is confident that his movement to create stable, loving and working communities for the chronically homeless will only continue to grow. With plans in the works for the development of additional communities in Austin, there is no doubt that Alan Graham is FOR HERE!
Visit Mobile Loaves & Fishes to learn more about how you can be part of the solution of ending homelessness in the city of Austin, Texas.