My name is Rhonda Callanan. My co-founder, Sarah Ruddle, and I run two 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations. In the fall of 2010, I found myself in a situation I had never envisioned I would ever face: I had fled an abusive marriage and ended up homeless with my fifteen-year-old daughter. We spent nine months navigating the world of the homeless - moving from friend's home to friend's home and trying to stay out of the way as much as possible. I worked a full-time job, but the pay was not enough to allow me to afford rent. It is disorienting and discouraging to realize you don't belong anywhere. I also had to learn how to ask for help, something I had never done or needed before in my life. What I found is that, quite often, I was treated poorly, as if I were an unnecessary burden on society.
In the meantime, my good friend, Sarah Ruddle, an Army veteran, through unrelated circumstances with a destroyed shoulder which had required six surgeries and still wasn't repaired, found herself unable to work, and, very quickly, homeless. Because she had no children and decided to go back to school, she did not qualify for assistance.
After nine long months, a couple from a local church heard about my daughter and me and asked to help. Turns out, they had an apartment in their house which was unoccupied at the time - and they wanted to offer it to my daughter and me to live in for free while we got back on our feet! They soon allowed Sarah to move in as well, and when my daughter and I moved out, Sarah remained with them longer.
During that time, Sarah and I often talked about our experiences and dreamed about how we wanted to do something to help people in need. We determined we would treat everyone with respect, and turn nobody away. We knew how powerful a hot meal was in opening doors to conversation and helping people feel a sense of self-worth, and so we wanted to do something that incorporated food and helped to alleviate hunger. We had about $20 between us at the time when we started to search for a building. The problem was - we simply could not afford any of the buildings we looked at, and they just didn't feel right - largely because we wanted to be as accessible as possible. We had both experienced difficulties affording gas to enable us to get to places of help.
One day, Sarah suggested we look into purchasing a food truck so we could take free hot meals to neighborhoods where there were people in need - and, even though we knew nothing about food trucks, The Torch was born! We were incorporated in September, 2012, and received our 501(c)3 status in November, 2012, despite being told it could take up to three years to be approved! It took a year to get the food truck up and ready to go, but, in April of 2013, we were out on the road. What do we do? We take the food truck into neighborhoods where there are a significant number of people in need and cook and serve free hot meals, no questions asked! Sometimes people need a kind word, a listening ear, and a smiling face in front of them just as much as they need food.
Since we began the Torch, we have served 18,289 free meals, and one of the latent results has been the sense of community that is built around a meal at the food truck. The best thing of all is all the awesome people we have met and the way we have been able to connect people to other people to help meet a variety of needs! Our website is: www.mobiletorch.org, if you would like more information. We are also on Facebook. In January 2015, we launched another nonprofit organization called Torch 180. We met so many people with disabilities living in the neighborhoods we serve and wanted to do something to help them. Sarah is a disabled veteran and I have over 20 years' experience working with people with special needs. Basically, at 180 we train people with disabilities in ServSafe and basic culinary skills to prepare them to work in the foodservice industry. We are currently in the process of locating a building in which we can provide the training and food service experience for our students.
One of the most amazing things we have seen happen is how our Livingston County community has rallied around us and the people we get to serve and know. We love the idea of #GivingTuesday because it is all about involving the community in what we are doing. As our #GivingTuesday project, we are challenging local businesses and individuals to consider holding jeans' days or even setting up a donation jar for us to collect funds to purchase a building. We are currently working to match a $150,000 match grant offer, which would go a long way in helping us secure a building to serve as a commissary for The Torch food truck and a training facility for our students.