New York City's homeless are just a bit warmer, thanks to one mother and son who are on a mission to provide the neediest with a piping hot bowl of vegan chili.
A vegan family, Michelle Carrera, and her 4-year-old son Ollie, realized the city's soup kitchen meals all contained meat, leaving no option for a healthier alternative. By November 2014, the two decided to start making their own vegan chili to distribute to those in need just in time for Thanksgiving, leading to the start of Chili on Wheels.
Carrera said she got grateful reactions from the street and concluded that serving the homeless shouldn't be done only during the holidays, but rather on a monthly basis.
"It all started with Ollie because I wanted to teach him about community and helping others," said Carrera, who also works as a full-time English and Spanish translator. "This type of outreach can help teach children that it's not weird or exotic to help people in need. If they learn from a young age, hopefully it will stick with them as an adult."
The pair, which started the effort in Kensington, Brooklyn and eventually ventured into to Lower Manhattan, try to target those who need it most. By hitting major city areas, like Union Square and Tompkins Square Park, Carrera and Ollie hope that bystanders who watch them serve will be motivated to volunteer in their own communities.
"Once you're out there on the street, it's heartbreaking," Carrera said. "We found a big need for non-meat and vegan meals among the hungry."
Patrick Markee, a spokesman from New York's Coalition for the Homeless, lauded their pursuit to help improve the lives of the city's homeless population.
"It sounds like an incredibly kind thing, and we're always struck by the generosity of New Yorkers," Markee said. "Whether it's a local elementary school clothing drive or something like this, it just really shows that people care."
Now, Carrera and Ollie are striving to make this monthly project a weekly one, with the goal of serving every Saturday in public parks throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan. Carrera started a crowdfunding campaign that she hopes will raise $3,500 by March 1, with donations going toward funding Chili on Wheels' status as an official nonprofit organization.
Supporters have already sent Carrera generous donations to help expand the project's reach, including a folding table to use in parks and a cooler on wheels.
The campaign has raised more than $1,900, with more than a week left to go.