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Art Talk by: Maryssa Rose Chavez
Photography by: Jinni J 

"Food is a right", was the title of the first shirt we printed with Free Lunch, and that sentiment alone is one that is unforgettable.
Free Lunch is an organization that is really special to not only myself and the Raw Paw team, but to the community at large here in Austin. They are founded on the belief that every person shouldn't have to live a life dictated by food insecurity just because of their socioeconomic status. Nutrition and food is in fact a right and Free Lunch has found ways to ensure this for many living in ATX. 

Free Lunch is both a meal support program and magazine, run by Jazz Mills, Carrie Fussell Bickley, Jade Skye Hammer, and Caroline Rose, and their main focus is to help those experiencing homelessness right now. They do this by growing relationships with local chefs and farms, who have supported them and have enabled them to deliver meals with the highest quality of ingredients, while also ensuring that their surplus product does not go to waste. In this Art Talk, we will do a deep dive into the individuals who make this all possible and share ways you, our readers, can help unhoused and displaced people in your own communities. <3

(Left to Right) Jade Skye Hammer, Jazz Mills, Carrie Fussell Bickley, and Caroline Rose

Photography by: Jinni J

Maryssa:
There are so many things that one can do to try and remedy the effects of homelessness, and I am interested as to how you all came to focus on providing meals / lunches, etc. Where did that inspiration / desire / skill come from?

Free Lunch:
Carrie and I had been making meals and delivering them independently of each other during the beginning of the pandemic. I’ve always had a soft spot for the unhoused, Carrie as well. Once we realized that we were both already doing meal support on a small scale by ourselves, we started taking small steps towards a more organized plan, we first began with setting small weekly goals. Eventually, it just sort of snowballed into Free Lunch a couple months later.

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Maryssa:
I would love to hear a small blurb from each of you who runs Free Lunch. This can be as short or long as you’d like. <3

Free Lunch:
This is each of our individual nightmare haha, we all hate to write about ourselves, the whole staff is made up of creatives.
Myself (Jazz), I am a musician and for the past 7 years, and have been working as an event producer. My experience as a producer has made my transition into Director of Operations at Free Lunch very easy, the work feels very similar to me but, I am much more passionate about my work now.
Carrie Fussell Bickley is the lead singer of Calliope Musicals and her love of cooking is why she heads up our meal support program. Her focus is meal planning and nutrient dense meals.
Jade Skye Hammer is the Creative Director of our Free Lunch Magazine, which is a perfect fit for her since her background is in film photography and art direction.
Caroline Rose is also a touring musician and from the first meeting we had with her, she immediately threw herself into the work. She has consistently been proactive and it was clear to me from the beginning that she would be a huge asset to our team.
Brett Silva is a professional BMX rider and similarly to Caroline, jumped right into showing up consistently to help. He also is such a positive vibe to be around. Love this team so much, and I am very proud.

Photography by: Jinni J

Maryssa:
What are some ways that the local community here in Austin can be better allies for those experiencing homlessness today?

Free Lunch:
I think the first big step would be admitting to themselves that if they do not have any personal experience working with the unhoused community, they have no clue how nuanced and layered this issue is. I personally believe that one of the biggest factors in solving any large problem is consistency. We tend to care about bigger problems when they are trending or it’s time to vote. We need to take this issue seriously every day. Do some research, ask more questions, find a cause/organizations that is doing the work that speaks to you, get involved in whatever way makes the most sense to you and stick with it.

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Maryssa:
What are some of your favorite farms, restaurants, and businesses that we could link to on our blog, that our readers could check out/support?

Free Lunch:
Farmhouse Delivery, LeRoy and Lewis, Confituras, and Oven Mitt Movement have all stepped up to help us out consistently with produce, pastries, high quality meat, and general support.
Red Beans and Ricley Yours, and Free Fridge ATX are other programs we love and plan to work more closely with this year.

Photography all courtesy of Free Lunches Website / Instagram  

Maryssa:
Could you think about a moment that felt the most rewarding through this entire experience while running Free Lunch?

Free Lunch:
Honestly, we almost doubled our meal output during the winter storm. We had previously been serving dinner at Camp Esperanza 4 nights a week and when the storm hit, we all knew...without discussing it really….that we were going to bring dinner every night. That was a really emotional week for everyone in Texas of course but, for me personally, I had never been more proud of our team. Since then, we have continued to serve dinner 7 nights a week.

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Maryssa:
Do you have any upcoming partnerships / announcements in the future that you would like our audience to look out for?

Free Lunch:
We are VERY excited about the build out of our Free Lunch Edible Garden. We have teamed up with Wild Heart Dirt who will be installing the first garden beds this week. Growing our own produce will help us continue to keep food costs low and enable us to meal plan according to what we produce.

Block

Photography by: Jinni J

Maryssa:
Great design seems to be an important part of your project, with your website and clothing. Where do you get your design inspirations / choose the designers you work with?

Free Lunch:
As a group of creatives, there is no shortage of ideas on our end. We are all used to creating an aesthetic to market ourselves. Collaborating with other local artists is important to us too, so many of the designs come from those who have reached out to us and want to support by contributing their own art. In that case, we give them creative control.

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Maryssa:
Do you have volunteers occasionally help distribute meals and if yes how can the community get involved?

Free Lunch:
We have some fun ideas in the works for ways to get volunteers involved in the future. For now, my biggest focus is on sustainability and the easiest way to ensure sustainability is consistency. The easiest way to keep people committed to the work consistently is fair pay. I think a huge reason why we have been able to expand so quickly is because we have a staff, and don’t rely on volunteer work. Especially now, with so many people out of work, it makes me proud to think that as Free Lunch grows….that doesn’t just mean more meal support, it means more jobs too. 

Photography by: Jinni J

Maryssa:
When, and where do you all provide meals?

Free Lunch:
We provide dinner 7 nights a week at Camp Esperanza

Photography all courtesy of Free Lunches Website / Instagram

Maryssa:
Could you describe the role of a “Lunch Monitor” and how you become one?

Free Lunch:
A Lunch Monitor is someone who subscribes to our magazine. Each quarter, they receive a new issue. The magazine serves as their newsletter, updating them about past progress and future goals. It is also evidence of their money in motion. The goal is to spend less time fundraising and more time focused on food insecurity. Our Lunch Monitor’s monthly contributions are our life force and we couldn’t be more grateful for their ongoing support.

Photography by: Jinni J

It's truly been a gift to learn from Free Lunch, and we hope all of you were able to learn a bit as well. Free Lunch is providing healthy meals 7 days a week at Camp Esperanza. They also have a fantastic way for the community to lend them support by becoming a Lunch Monitor and subscribing to their magazine, or donating to them directly or The Others Ones Foundation who has partnered with Free Lunch as a fiscal sponsor.  
Free Lunch is also running a lovely shirt via Raw Paw Drop Ship, where 100% of the proceeds will go to them and their continued efforts. We all have a duty as humans to support, uplift, and be concerned about the basic rights to food, shelter, and safety; may we lend our support to those who need it most and contribute to a local organization such as Free Lunch. 

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