Bakersfield Burrito Project feeds the needy and homeless

Rhiannon Stroberg, Features Editor

Bakersfield College business major Belinda Lopez Rickett and her husband, English major Jason Rickett, are determined to feed the hungry and the homeless with the help of their non-profit organization the Bakersfield Burrito Project.
After being a part of Food Not Bombs, a nationwide movement where they feed the community vegan and vegetarian food anytime, hot or cold, Lopez Rickett wanted to branch out but Food Not Bombs wasn’t wanting to do so with her.
Lopez Rickett founded the Bakersfield Burrito Project in 2009 when she came across the original Burrito Project on MySpace. She contacted the originator and after being given permission, she started the Bakersfield Burrito Project.
“It started out with 27 burritos in the park” Lopez Rickett said “It was I and a gentleman named Robert Singleton and we fed 27 people. That was the beginning of the love of the Bakersfield Burrito Project.”
After founding the Burrito Project, Lopez Rickett decided to attend BC to get her degree in business.
“I put the cart before the horse,” Lopez Rickett explained, “I started the burrito project without a business degree and no idea on how to run the business. The financial part, the grant writing, and all that other stuff and so now, I’m taking business classes so I can help the Bakersfield Burrito project much better. As Jason likes to say ‘We’re flying the plane as we build it.’ We’re making some stuff up as we go along, but it’s good. It’s all progress.”
Lopez Rickett would like BC or CSUB students to get more involved because [the project] is in dire need of someone who can help out with grant writing so they can receive funding for their organization.
“A lot of funding we have is from doing fundraisers by allowing people to park in the parking lot of our office for $5 during event nights at Rabobank Arena,” Lopez Rickett said “The parking lot is what consistently makes us money.”
During Condor nights and other big event nights, the Bakersfield Burrito Project sets up their event parking sign and since they’re so close to Rabobank, people, who are parking in the Burrito Project’s lot, ask her about more information on the project in which Lopez Rickett refers them to their Facebook page.
“Once they’re parked, we let them know about the Bakersfield Burrito Project and where the money is going to,” said Lopez Rickett. “Sometimes they’ll ask us more questions or they’ll know who we are and a lot of times I have to explain to them that it takes more than a Sunday to roll a burrito. We have to make sure the liability insurance is paid, that we have the foil for the burritos to keep them warm, and we also need to make sure we have gas in the cars to deliver the burritos, it definitely takes more than a Sunday to make a burrito.”
Lopez Rickett also mentioned that because of the many donations they receive from the community, such as bags of beans and rice, they are able to have money for these expenses so they don’t come out of pocket.
“At the cost that we have, our burritos are now less than 25 cents a burrito, which is lot better than where we were at, which was 45 cents per burrito,” Lopez Rickett said. “Because of the help of our generous community, who are donating beans and rice, it doesn’t take money out of our pockets so we have money for the liability insurance and rent and things like that. That helps us a lot.”
One donation that moved her was one from a homeless man himself. Lopez Rickett explained that while they were distributing at The Mission, a homeless man told them that he had just received food, but he was not able to cook the rice he had been provided with because he didn’t have a way to cook it. He gave them his bag of rice and told them, “I’m going to help make next week’s burrito.”
“It was very awing because for one, he was donating to us instead of us giving to him,” she said. “I mean we gave him a burrito, but he felt compelled to give us the rice, and we were honored that he did that for us.”
She thought it was great and it meant a lot that he was able to give back to them because he understood that he wasn’t just receiving a handout, even though the Burrito Project makes sure the homeless and the hungry don’t see this as a handout.
“We don’t preach to them or tell them that they need to change their lives in order to receive a burrito, we just give them a burrito and move on without judging them,” she explained. “It’s not our job to judge them and we don’t know what put them in that position, because it could be anything. I have been homeless before and there have been times it wasn’t my fault. Sometimes it’s not bad choices, sometimes its circumstances.”
She further explained her experience in which in her early 20s, her and her two young children, were forced to evacuate the apartment complex she was living in due to toxic mold.
She received her deposit check and was able to get a house within 30 days, however; in the meantime, her and her children were staying in a motel room.
“It was hard to be homeless with children and technically, I was homeless because I didn’t have a permanent home. United Way has certain guidelines on what is deemed homeless and that was one of them. Couch surfing is considered homelessness and if you don’t have a stable residence then you are considered homeless. We find a lot of people that fall under that category that we feed,” she said.
When it comes to distribution, after the burritos are kept warm in the oven and are wrapped up in foil, the volunteers, her husband, and herself, load up the burritos in insulated bags that keep them warm for about 2 hours after being taken out of the oven.
She states that they have several people who come by and pick up burritos to distribute to different locations in Bakersfield. One of their volunteers distributes them to a group home for gentlemen, Facebook group members of Dalians Helping Homeless. Dalians distributes in Oildale, and Food Not Bombs distributes the Burrito Project’s burritos at Martin Luther King Jr. Park.
When asked about what she looks for in volunteers, Lopez Rickett simply stated, “Volunteers are volunteers, you can’t make them volunteer, they’d have to want to do it on their own but we like volunteers that are self-motivated and that are enthusiastic about helping us.”
She also went on to say that although the volunteers are usually good about this, she has to set a few rules for them because they [Burrito Project] don’t want a volunteer to say something offensive that could hurt the feelings of another volunteer.
“We just want to make this a safe place for our volunteers and we want this to be a comfortable and positive experience for everyone,” She said.
Although the Bakersfield Burrito Project has many volunteers throughout the year, they tend to lack volunteers during summer breaks.
Most of this reason is because Centennial students, and other students from different high schools, have to complete a mandatory eight hours of community service at a non-profit organization for their Government class.
Once the community service hours are complete, it is required for them to either present a power point or a poster board sharing their experience along with 10 mandatory photos of them in action with their volunteer work.
Centennial student volunteer Cami Bishop, 17, briefly said, “What I learned about this experience is that it’s very eye opening because I don’t come from this, so it’s very hard to see people like this, but it’s nice to help them out.”
Another volunteer from Centennial Stacy Ramirez, 18, said, “It’s refreshing because they don’t have that much, yet they still have a smile on their face, and it’s just better to help them out. It’s better than giving them money because we’re actually making a difference in their lives.”
A story that Jason Rickett said is his favorite to tell was about a girl from Centennial who was trying to get her eight hours in. One Sunday, she stormed in with an angry look on her face and everyone immediately knew that she was upset.
“We figured, Ok Sarah [not her real name] is upset, we made sure to put extra butter on her pancakes and that she was being treated right that day,” Rickett joked.
It was the day that Sarah was expected to go on the route with the Burrito Project when they came across a squat.
Rickett further explained that a squat is an abandoned apartment or home where homeless people go to live, or squat, without paying rent or utilities.
While distributing at the squat, Sarah came across a young girl, around 7 years old, whom she gave a burrito, some water, and a bag of chips to. When Sarah went to leave, the girl stopped her and asked if she can have one for her other siblings. Soon around five other children were standing outside, the ages ranging between the ages of 2 and 6 years old waiting for their burrito.
After she finished distributing the burritos, along with the chips and water, the children asked if they could have one more for their disabled grandmother. She complied and once she got into the van after she was finished distributing to them, she burst into tears.
When asked what was wrong, she replied, “This morning I was upset that my parents wouldn’t buy me a new iPhone and here are these kids who have next to nothing.”
“What we like to see in that is the perspective that shifts in peoples’ heads,” Rickett said, “that an iPhone is important at the time, but when you see someone that doesn’t have water, it becomes less important.”
Another thing about the project is that their burritos are vegetarian.
“We started helping out with Food Not Bombs, and they’re almost vegetarian,” said Lopez Rickett. “They use chicken broth and we went ahead and switched it out with vegetable broth, so we were able to make it vegetarian.”
“We use veggie broth and make sure it is vegetarian for dietary purposes,” Rickett chimed in, “we have Muslims, and Jewish people on our route so pork and beef wouldn’t be good. We go vegetarian for several different reasons and anyone can eat a vegetarian burrito though, literally anyone.”
The main thing Lopez Rickett is hoping the Bakersfield Burrito Project will do for these homeless and hungry individuals is to instill hope in each one of them.
“I know what it felt like to be on the street and feeling like there’s no hope,” she said, “and when we’re out there giving them burritos, we’re hoping that we give them hope and we hope that the burrito carries them to the next day.”
A volunteer named Laurie Kessler, 53, who has known Lopez Rickett for quite some time, expressed how proud she was of Lopez Rickett for her growing organization.
“I’m proud of her because she went from a little table at central park, to an actual non-profit organization.” said Kessler.
Kessler was the one who came up with the idea to distribute water with the burritos to quench their throat and wash down the burrito.
“I got the idea because one day when we were distributing at the The Mission, a woman showed up with ice water and she was distributing it to them [the homeless],” Kessler said. “I thought it was a great idea so I said to myself, ‘That’s what I’m gonna do,’”
Kessler has been volunteering for the project since this past summer and she seemed to agree with Lopez Rickett about the project giving these less unfortunate people hope.
“It [the project] offers these people hope,” said Kessler, “I’m sure they have a lot of moments where they feel as if nobody cares for them. Maybe this will spark something inside them to want to better their lives.”
A disabled homeless man named Ben Patterson, 46, thought the project was a great idea as well.
“It’s very nice, we really appreciate it out here,” he said “ We usually get a lot of soup around here so the burritos are refreshing and filing.”
Lopez Rickett explained that they are the only Burrito Project that is open every Sunday, rain or shine.
“Even when the county told us that we weren’t able to make burritos, we still found a way to feed the community,” she said, “We wanted to comply with everything the county required of us, so we brought canned food and distributed them as if they were burritos. They weren’t burritos, but it was still food from the burrito broject.”
Lopez Rickett states that in the future, she is hoping to expand the project and become more self-sufficient. She would also like to have her own kitchen similar to Bon Jovi’s The Soul Kitchen, or have a thrift store.
“Something that would help us sustain our own insurance so we—I— wouldn’t have to work so hard with fundraising,” she said. “If we have a kitchen, we are able to have more people come in and not only volunteer, but get work experience too. So it’ll be a win-win for everyone if we were to branch out and have our own place to sustain us financially.”
Lopez Rickett would like to one day get paid for being the CEO of the company.
“I know I’m not going to be one of those CEO’s with the latest Lexus car or the newest MK [Michael Kors] purse,” said Lopez Rickett. “I just want to pay bills and go to sleep at night knowing that I made a difference in someone’s life.”
The Bakersfield Burrito project meets at the Wesley United Methodist Church at 11 a.m. every Sunday. For more information on how to get involved with the project, visit