RENO, Nev. (AP) — In a handful of spots around Reno where homeless folks gather — the old bus station, City Plaza, David Taylor Park, along the Truckee River — free burritos are creating community.
The wraps sheathed in foil come courtesy of the Reno Burrito Project, a group founded by Blaize Abuntori, a graduate student in statistics and data science at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Abuntori, who hails from Northern Ghana, noticed homeless people in Reno and wanted to help. This past April, he spent 20 bucks on four burritos from Beto’s and handed them out.
“I was a little bit sad I only had four,” said Abuntori, who quickly realized each burrito would cost less — and there would be more to distribute — if he made them from scratch. He recruited four friends, and “we rolled 15 burritos the next week. That’s how it started.”
Today, the project distributes 200 burritos every Sunday, a number made possible by a Go Fund Me campaign, an Instagram page to secure donations and volunteers, and support from across UNR, including a $500 donation from Professor Marjorie Matocq, who challenged others in the university’s College of Agriculture to match her donation.
“The caliber of community assistance that the project offers is inspiring, and I wanted to support it any way I could,” Matocq said.
Along the way, the project has drawn a core group of 10 volunteers, Abuntori said, plus about 40 others who variously donate time or money. The project has also become more than simply a means of providing food.
“Being consistent and showing up every week, people started looking forward to seeing us every week,” Abuntori said. “We have conversations with people. We know their names. We are beginning to build a good sense of community.”
When he came to the U.S., Abuntori had his first burrito — at Beto’s. “I liked it. I liked the way it was packaged,” he said.
Burrito building takes place Saturdays and Sundays at Abuntori’s apartment and the homes of a few other volunteers. Ground beef, rice and beans are cooked for the filling, then the burritos are rolled up and swaddled in foil. Thirty to 35 pounds of ground beef are used each week.
Abuntori got the burrito recipe from one of his roommates, but he added flavoring touches from his native Ghana: garlic, extra red chili pepper, lots of paprika, and kicky seasoning cubes made by Maggi, an international brand of seasonings and quick-cooking foods in the Nestle portfolio.
“It’s very popular and very common in Ghana,” Abuntori said of Maggi.
These days, besides burritos, the project crew is supplying folks with toothpaste, toothbrushes, lotion, sanitary wipes and other hygiene products. Volunteers also are assisting job seekers with resumes.
In one case, Abuntori said, volunteers even helped a homeless woman with cancer obtain shelter to make it easier for her to stay current with her treatments.
“What can we provide you within our capacity? We are trying to go beyond burritos.”
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