by Founder Jennifer Elizabeth Crone
I have always had a heart for the homeless. I’m just not the type of person who can walk by someone clearly living on the street and not feel something. After growing up in a suburb of San Diego I lived in New York City for 6 years and saw homeless people every day. When I first moved there I never ate lunch because as soon as I walked out of the cafe on my way back to work I saw someone who needed the meal more than I did and couldn’t help but give it to them. There were a few particularly sweet homeless men that I would continually get hot chocolate and a donut for in winter, when it was wet and snowy and freezing. One guy camped out on the corner a couple avenues from my place in Murray Hill and I would sometimes heat up a can of soup and bring it out and sit with him on the curb while he ate. He wasn’t a drug addict or a crazy person; he was a father, who spoke with pride and love about his children, with no animosity or blame that they weren’t helping him. He became homeless while drowning in legal fees as he tried to get custody of his children when his wife divorced him. I continued to help out in the little ways that I could. I always found that the kindness more than the food was what really touched their hearts and added warmth to their hearts. The simple act of looking into their eyes and not looking away made all the difference.
When I moved back to San Diego I came to Little Italy, on the bay edge of the downtown Gaslamp District. Again I saw homeless people every day. Again I did little things like give them leftovers or make sack lunches from things I had at home. And again I felt the immense gratitude from every one of them. On my birthday, January 30th, 2014, I was walking downtown to my yoga class and noticed all the homeless people lining Broadway. After my class I went into a coffee shop and ordered a bagel for myself to go. I thought of all the people I would pass by on my walk home and ordered 5 more bagels in separate bags. As I walked home I handed them out and was full of love with each interaction. But I ran out of bagels way before I ran out of hungry people.
A couple months later I was feeling particularly sorry for myself after a difficult breakup and forced myself to do the only thing I know to pull me out of self pity: a gratitude list. I started my list with a roof over my head and food to eat. This sparked the thought of all the people I passed every day who didn’t have either of those. I wanted to pull myself out of my funk by being of service to the people who had less than I did. I knew I could make a couple sack lunches and have a few conversations, but I wanted to do more. I posted an event on Facebook called Brunch Club – Sunday of Service and invited all my local friends I thought might have an interest in giving back. All I said was that I was going to make some lunches to hand out to the homeless and then afterward we could go to brunch. I asked that the friends who came bring a cash donation to help pay for the supplies. I had no idea if anyone would show up or if they would all think I was crazy, but I resolved to do it alone if no one showed up.
A couple days later I went to the local discount market and got 50 bottles of water, fixin’s for pb&js, granola bars, and toothbrushes. The night before I sat up late writing 50 notes. On one side I chose a quote of inspiration or a message from my heart and on the other I wrote the address for a shelter where they could go for a meal. 6 people showed up at my door and we put together the bags and went to hand them out. They went quickly. There were more people than bags. But the folks were grateful. They said thank you. They joked with us, smiled at us, shared hugs and stories. As I was getting back into my car there was a man sitting on the floor in front of a building lit up with bright mosaic tiles shining in the sun. He pulled out the sandwich and as he read the note I had written a smile overtook his face. My heart grew 2 sizes that day. My friends and I then shared a brunch table and broke bread together as a little family, happy with the small difference we had just made.
A month later I made a similar invite along with new Facebook and Instagram accounts for Brunch Club. Word had spread and 39 people showed up this time; my home had never been so full. Some of the people I had never even met before. That day we were able to make 150 bags. In addition to the notes, water, food and toothbrushes this time we added socks and wet wipes to each bag, items often requested by those living on the streets. Again the most amazing part of the day was the interactions we had with the people we served. The stories they told us, the gratitude they displayed. A 17 year old kid broke down in tears telling us that he was so scared to die. He told us that every member of his family and every friend he had ever had had died on the street. He told us that he just wanted to make it to his 18th birthday. Our group is not based in religion, rather in kindness, love, human decency and service, but this kid asked us to pray for him and so we got in a circle around him and my friend Branko said a prayer. It was a moment I will never forget. Writing about it now my eyes are welling up with tears. I haven’t seen that kid since but I think about him all the time. A veteran who told us he felt forgotten and thrown away by the country he served also came to tears while thanking us for our kindness. Whether he wanted it or not I gave him a big sweaty hug.
The third month we were 60 strong, fed 201 and again were able to add more useful items. Dentists donated whole dental kits with toothpaste, toothbrushes, and floss. My dad donated 100 socks and t shirts. Nature Valley donated 100 granola bars. We met at Mission Brewery, who just gave us the use of their space. As Brunch Club expands with more volunteers and we are able to serve more people, I’m mindful to remember that at the heart of our mission is to be of service to those members of our society that need it the most. I want to do more work to help people transition out of homelessness and get their lives back on track to where they want to be, working with some great organizations who are already doing this kind of work. I want to do as much as I can for San Diego,which has the third largest homeless population in the country and the first largest population of homeless veterans. But at the end of the day, I want to feed people who are hungry and I want to look them in the eyes and tell them they are worthy when they have forgotten it. And that’s what Brunch Club does.