If you head down the back stairwell, continue into the basement and wander through the underground halls of First Christian Church on a late Sunday morning, you’ll hear sounds of food being chopped and wrapped and realize you’ve come across the Burrito Brigade, a group of volunteers making hundreds of burritos for the hungry.
With the mission to battle food insecurity in Eugene, an average of 20 volunteers gather from 11 am to 3 pm in the basement of First Christian Church on Sundays, and from 9:30 am to 2 pm at Bethesda Lutheran Church on Saturdays, to make burritos that are distributed via foot, bike and car throughout the city.
Burrito Brigade volunteers drop off burritos to the hungry at more than 14 locations including Conestoga Safe Spots, Opportunity Village, St. Vincent de Paul Service Station, First Place Family Center, White Bird Clinic and Occupy Medical. Some burritos are given directly to people out on the street.
As of Nov. 12, Burrito Brigade hit a major milestone, serving their 100,000th burrito since the group’s humble beginning in March 2014. Jennifer Denson, a board member and organizer, explains that back then, the group served about 200 burritos per weekend, operating out of a house in the Whiteaker.
“We did what we could, which was focus on the importance of just getting any food out there,” Denson says. “We didn’t have nearly the detail and care and support we do now.”
Now, Burrito Brigade serves nearly 1,000 burritos per weekend — about 325 sloppy-Joe-style burritos every Saturday and 500 to 600 rice, bean and veggie burritos every Sunday — and has been an official nonprofit since late 2015.
The first few hours of each weekend prep-session are for making burritos, and the process is as organized and efficient as a well-oiled machine. Volunteers gather around plastic tables, begin chopping, slicing and preparing vegetables and ingredients with an intense focus, and also with joy.
“We have volunteers of all ages. Sometimes people come in big groups, and sometimes whole families come in together,” Denson says. “It’s 100 percent self-propelled and amazing to see.”
On this Sunday afternoon volunteers cut heaping handfuls of fresh lettuce. They roast regular and sweet potatoes, slice organic tomatoes and onions, make warm rice in a 15-cup rice cooker and prepare individual pieces of foil to wrap each burrito. Precision is evident as the group makes its own spice mix to add for extra flavor and doesn’t use anything processed.
All the vegetables are organic, when possible, and a majority of ingredients are donated to the group throughout the year. Much of the current produce was donated by Eugene Foodies and The Corner Market.
“The community support is amazing, but we still love getting new volunteers and more people involved,” Denson says. “There is always a need for people to help battle food insecurity.”
The group constantly looks for ways to reach more of the community’s hungry. Burrito Brigade recently partnered with the University of Oregon when student government reached out about a need: The group now provides around 100 burritos to the UO each weekend for students who can’t afford food.
Within the past few weeks, the group has secured a kitchen for the Burrito Brigade branch in Portland. “We are slowly growing and expanding — we are always trying to up our numbers wherever we can,” Denson says. “It’s a full community effort.”
To find more information and learn how you can donate or volunteer, visit Burrito-Brigade.org or find the group on Facebook.