***The Thursday Interview is a showcase for creators, innovators, troublemakers, small business owners to share news and insight about the creative impetus and inspirations behind their latest project, launch or business.
I was introduced to Chilis on Wheels, thanks to a recent Serene Social feature on Michelle Carrera and her son, Ollie. I was really happy that Michelle wanted to share her story with the Thursday Interview.
Name: Michelle Carrera
Organization Name: Chilis on Wheels
Life Motto: If you’re not a force of good, and you’re not a force of evil, you’re just taking up space. Be a force of good. Do something.
Describe the moment when you knew you had to launch Chilis on Wheels
Chilis on Wheels started organically on Thanksgiving of 2014 as I searched for a soup kitchen to volunteer in. I wanted to teach my son Ollie, of 4 years of age about building community and helping other people, and maybe make a yearly tradition for our family.
Unfortunately none of the soup kitchens were vegetarian or vegan, and as an ethical vegan family, we could not bring ourselves to participate. I decided to make vegan chili and distribute it ourselves. Once we were face to face with hunger, I could not turn away. I could not ignore it. I remember that day, it was starting to snow, the first snow of the season, and I looked up the street, (eerily empty for Union Square) and I said to myself, “You have to do more. This is one day of the year, what about the other 364?”
This turned into monthly distributions, then weekly ones. Now I’m opening up chapters across the country, in Puerto Rico, and soon internationally, and the vision is to have our own space so we can be a fully functional community food hub with daily vegan meals, and a center for the community to learn about food, and talk about food, and organize around vegan food.
What has been your most challenging moment since launch?
To be honest, our ride has been pretty smooth.
We have not had luck finding a free shared kitchen. We have tried to contact community centers, and churches to see if they will let us borrow their kitchens on Saturday mornings for about three hours, to no avail. So the challenge is having to cook at home, a tiny apartment, pack up all the meals, and take the trains with the carts into the city. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about it on our blog, the sidewalks were filled with unplowed snow, and I was trying to maneuver two carts, and one 4 year old to get back to our home, and one of the carts toppled over and spilled the left over water bottles in the snow. Ollie was crying because he needed to hold my hand. We were both tired, physically and emotionally. Luckily a good Samaritan saw our struggle, and offered to go out of her way to help us, without knowing who we were and what we had just been doing. I trust that all our challenges will eventually be resolved in much the same way. We help and we also receive help.
Why do you invite families to volunteer?
Like most mothers, I can talk at length about how my son is my entire reason for living. But in Chilis on Wheels, he really was the reason behind its creation. I think it’s important for children, young children, (who are often forgotten when it comes to volunteering) to begin to have a sense of community, to understand the connections in life, in sufferings. And it is important for adults to model behavior, for children to see their parents engage in positive relationships with all sorts of people within the community. What we learn as children becomes our normal, becomes our habits. If children are exposed to volunteering on a regular basis, then as adults those traditions carry on with them, it becomes a second nature to them. And so then we are talking about a whole generation filled with committed, participatory, compassionate adults. And what better way to make the world a better place than that?
Fast forward to November 2015: What would you like to be able to say about Chilis on Wheels first year and plans for year two?
I hope the first year brings us the food hub and the first dozen chapters. And the second year sees us becoming a real fixed part of the community, with more international chapters opening up, really starting a conversation about veganism and its connection to world hunger.
This is your chance to shout out to the Chilis on Wheels community….don’t be shy.
We distribute vegan chili every Saturday. Join us in Washington Square Park every Saturday at 2pm. Visit our blog: https://chilisonwheels.wordpress.com for details and to contact us. We welcome your thoughts and ideas!
Thank you so much for being a part of this movement, for believing in myself and Ollie, for encouraging us in this endeavor. We still have a lot to do, but I know that I count on your support. That first day that I distributed, my heart grew three sizes and I still hear myself saying “Do more”. Always do more in life. Always.
If you would like to know more about Chilis on Wheels and provide support, please visit: