“My name is Anthony. I was born, raised and educated in a little town in Louisiana called Natchitoches. My dad was a construction worker and a gambler. He and my mom separated when I was just a kid. My mom worked hard to make ends meet for my brothers and sisters. She even did men’s work sometimes.

After high school I enrolled in college. I attended Southern University then Louisiana State University in Shreveport. I majored in Electrical Engineering for a long time, but switched to Business Management just before my senior year.

I didn’t graduate. I found a good job, then lost it while I was still in school. About this time I found myself in a downspin. I wound up in prison after I did not finish a deferred probation that was unfairly adjudicated. I stayed for two years.

Later, while in prison for another charge, I finished my college degree–graduating from Tarleton College in Stephenville, Texas. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has a program for inmates who want to take college courses. I took advantage of that.

Following prison the second time, I went to Waco, Texas. While there I learned I was not prepared to adequately cope with life. So I moved to Austin, hoping I’d do better there.

Last year I got hit by a car, injuring both legs, my right shoulder, my neck, and my back. I had some bleeding on the brain. The Medical Assistance Program (MAP) covered my medical expenses. I am still recovering, or trying to.

Being homeless is not easy. It’s a hard way to live. Things don’t get better; it’s a constant struggle just getting along from day to day, living on practically nothing except the kindness of strangers; trying to stay warm in the winter and cool in the hot summers; finding a place to sleep; just having enough to eat. So it’s understandable that homeless people are severely depressed and have just given up on life. I was one of them.

But recently, my fortunes changed. I met Steven Hebbard outside a coffee house near Riverside and Congress in Austin. Steven told me about Mobile Loaves and Fishes, explaining that I could make some money, if I wanted, by working with other volunteers—homeless and otherwise—in Mobile Loaves and Fishes’ Genesis Gardens.

I’ve been working in the Mobile Loaves and Fishes Genesis Gardens Program for awhile now. I like it. The food we grow helps feed Austin’s homeless people. I get paid a small stipend for my work, more for working double shifts. That’s money for food and other essentials. There’s no shelter for me yet, but Steven said there is a future project, a village for the homeless, that might offer that. Right now I stay at the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless (ARCH), a homeless shelter in Austin.

I am trying to get out of being a homeless person. I want to show up, and not be absent any longer. It’s hard to do. But my work with Mobile Loaves and Fishes is getting me closer to where I’d like to be. Mobile Loaves and Fishes has been the ship for me, like the ship that carried George Washington to victory in the Revolutionary War.

While the work at Mobile Loaves and Fishes helps me feed my body, it also feeds my self esteem. It’s not just the physical work. I feel free to express my ideas for bettering the gardens I work in, making them even more productive food sources for Austin’s homeless population. That feeds my creativity. And in spite of being homeless for so long, I still care about people. At Mobile Loaves and Fishes I get to work with others in my same situation, talk with them. Maybe, over time, we’ll find ways to help one another. In the meantime, it’s mutually supportive to be working side by side with them to help others like ourselves.

I believe that Mobile Loaves and Fishes provides the synergy to help not only homeless people, but also the community at large.”

Click on the leaf heart to support Anthony and other folks transitioning from a life on the streets.

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Have you met someone who makes you feel what you’re doing—at that moment—is very important?  Maybe a parent or teacher?  Do you recall how that may have inspired greater achievements, perhaps a more meaningful life?

Steven Hebbard, soil developer for Mobile Loaves and Fishes in Austin, has that quality. His classroom is the land—in this case, urban growing centers known as Genesis Gardens, feeding Austin’s homeless.  He inspires the homeless who work there, helping them rebuild lost self esteem while learning new skills and earning some money. 

Steven, a Christian first—then a farmer, academic, and athlete—didn’t come to Genesis Gardens easily.  Born and raised in Bakersfield, CA, he earned a degree in Communications from Azusa State University, Azusa, Calif.  He also played football there.

Following college, he worked, traveled, and read, trying to determine what God wanted him to do.  Along the way, he earned an advanced degree in Communications and Cultural Studies, underpinned by religious courses.  He worked as a flight attendant, a security guard, a book seller at Barnes and Noble, a successful teacher, and a farmer.

Ultimately, Steven moved to Austin to get a Ph.D. in American Studies at University of Texas.  “But I felt God had brought me to Austin for something else,” he said.  Following two years of teaching at a Christian school, Steven worked at Boggy Creek Farm in Austin.  He started a network of backyard gardens—“rich and poor working in backyard gardens together,” Steven recalls.  These farming experiences laid the groundwork for Steven’s future.

So did his vision to use farming as an intersection to create a family of homeless and volunteers, the Christian community, the city, and the poor.

Learning about Multiple Loaves and Fishes, Steven approached Alan Graham with an idea for Community First! residents:  they would farm urban gardens, selling the food to create income as pay.  Alan liked the idea, and today the Genesis Gardens are one of Mobile Loaves and Fishes’ greatest success stories.  Produce from the gardens is processed at a commissary in Westlake, then distributed via trucks to homeless people here.

“Mobile Loaves and Fishes is one of the most innovative and collaborative organizations I’ve seen,” says Steven.  “We’re a bottom-up organization where the power to effect change in the lives of the homeless in Austin is firmly in the hands of our volunteers.  The essence of the MLF model is empowerment and hospitality.  Those who man our food trucks or volunteer in our Community First! Program might think they are the ones who practice hospitality, but inevitably they end up being the ones who are hosted with care and affection.

“MLF volunteers get welcomed into a home at once, larger than they believed possible, a home that also has a million doorways into its warm, intimate glow.  I get to work among this vast, home-making conspiracy. It’s infectious and beautiful all at once.”

Photo from Occupy Austin Protest

What is the reletive worth of collective protest movements such as Occupy Wall Street?  As I see it, the biggest enemy that can be truly defeated is the self; and the primary driving force in the enemy that should be overcome is apathy preventing love.  A world changing movement begins when when an individual or group realize they have power regardless of their material circumstances.  Injustice plays itself out in every area of life (areas that are material as well as systems, as well as organizations, etc.) but the person that concieves of change from the outside in (thinking material changes will lead to deeply felt freedoms) will not be able to call on the resources of the spirit that will arm me with the weapons necessary to wage such a fight.  If I believe God has the power to affect change over everything in the universe, then I must believe that any force arrayed against me is a test of my character or the character of my community rather than an arch enemy to faught as an end in and of itself (for God could overcome any power he chose to).  Sometimes, of course, in the act of living rightly we will face off with those powers that stand between us and the life we are called to live- the life instilling justice, mercy, love, etc- in the world around us.  This doesn’t make these powers any more evil than we we are ourselves, though they clearly are to be opposed in the areas of our disagreement as far as our actions are concerned.  Sometimes this sort of “face-off” will be a collective one, but it will not be a “protest” like the Occupy movement- as if protesting anything is a good worth fighting for- rather, it will be a movement where the goal is human freedom to live out rightousness in service to our brothers and sisters, and to our God.  The enemy will be clearly defined as an antagonist to human flourishing, and will be overcome in the very act of the protest rather than in any change we seek in the material world.
Here is a quote from a Wendell Berry poem that, as always, expresses this idea better than I could:
Much protest is naive; it expects quick, visible improvement and despairs and gives up when such improvement does not come. Protesters who hold out for longer have perhaps understood that success is not the proper goal. If protest depended on success, there would be little protest of any durability or significance. History simply affords too little evidence that anyone’s individual protest is of any use. Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.  From “A Poem of Difficult Hope”