This giving story comes from our #MyGivingStory contest. You can share your story and your chosen nonprofit organization could win a $10,000 grant, or another prize. Visit the contest gallery for inspiration and to vote for your favorites. www.bit.ly/MyGivSt
Today's story comes from Rhonda, who wrote this story in support of Torch 180:
My name is Rhonda Callanan, 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 and as if I didn't deserve to be looked in the eye or treated with respect. I often walked away from potential sources of help because of the overwhelming burden of trying to provide all the necessary paperwork and keep all the appointments. I was already homeless; it took everything I had to ask for help. The further humiliation of repeatedly showing people how little money I made and watching their negative reactions beat me down further.
In the meantime, my good friend, Sarah Ruddle, an Army veteran, through unrelated circumstances - she has 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.
It was during our times of desperate need that we realized we wanted to make a difference for people in need, without judgment, no matter how they ended up that way. We determined whatever we ended up doing, we would treat everyone with respect and dignity 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. Our treatment at the organizations we visited when we were seeking help made us realize we needed an entirely new approach to helping others.
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 the fact we were 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 2014, 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 then, 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. In fact, we repeatedly hear the biggest impact our presence has on the communities we visit is our ability to bring neighbors together and help facilitate a sense of belonging.
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!
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, which we knew would, in turn, impact their communities.
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 food service industry. We are currently in the process of seeking a building in which we can provide the training and food service experience for our students. We have completely trained six classes - all in borrowed kitchens and classroom space. The constraints that go with borrowing space have hampered our ability to extend training for individuals who might need more time or a little extra support.
One of the promises we made when we founded The Torch and Torch 180 was that we would never take a paycheck from the donations people give. We felt like people can lose their sense of caring when they are spending their time trying to bring in enough donations to generate a salary. Every donation is used to help us grow The Torch and Torch 180.
We are currently working to match a $150,000 match grant offer, which would go a long way in helping us secure a building which could serve as a commissary for The Torch food truck AND a training facility for our students.