A project started by two teenage friends to feed homeless people in San Antonio began last year with a mobile app and some loaves of bread that were destined for the trash bin.
Motivated to help after seeing the homeless on downtown streets and having nothing to give them, high schoolers Rishabh Jain and Aruj Khater started developing an app to connect restaurants with excess food and volunteer drivers who could transport it to area agencies serving the homeless.
In the meantime, Jain and Khater kicked off the project by collecting bread and other items themselves from local Subway restaurants and delivering it to Christian Assistance Ministry and SAMMinistries.
They were in the final phase of app development when the coronavirus pandemic began to affect restaurants, interrupting their supply chain of donated food staples, and limited their ability to recruit drivers.
That’s when Jain and Khater cooked up a new plan that involves the young men raising funds and even mowing lawns for a donation and has since supplied over 600 meals to agencies serving the community’s homeless and hungry.
“It all started when we were driving to an event downtown and we saw some homeless on the side of the road and we didn’t really have much in the car, except a banana. That’s all we could give them,” said Jain, a senior at Reagan High School. “But we had a feeling that it kind of sucks for those people who go to sleep hungry every night while we lived privileged lives.”
They both knew family members in India who were collecting excess food from restaurants and distributing to those in need. “We thought if we could implement that here, we could fix the issue of food waste that goes on around the world, along with feeding the homeless,” Jain said.
But when restaurants began to close or slow production in March, they knew they had to find a way to pay restaurants for the food they were acquiring. They founded a nonprofit, built a website, and negotiated with restaurant owners for reduced prices.
So far, their nonprofit Dream Donations has raised several thousand dollars, with the money used to purchase meals from Subway, Lenny’s Sub Shop, and Page Barteau Catering. They are negotiating with others.
Starting in April, the meal donations helped SAMMinistries feed about 90 people three times a week at the homeless hub the organization set up with the City’s Department of Human Services in a Walmart parking lot near the encampment of a number of unsheltered homeless. The intake process for emergency shelters across the city closed in late March.
“So being able to go out into the community and provide a meal, something cold to drink, the opportunity for a shower … was critical for those folks who really were on the street and desperate for services,” said Nikisha Baker, chief operating officer for SAMMinistries, a nonprofit dedicated to housing needs. “When all of this started, there was not a budget for the homeless hub and providing these meals in this way.”
The meals Jain and Khater now deliver are going to SAMMinistries’ Transitional Living and Learning Center, Baker said.
Pat Patel, owner of 15 local Subway restaurants, said seeing Jain and Khater pivot their plan during the pandemic, and taking it a step further, makes him proud.
“I think that what counts is the spirit that they wanted to help with the app in a different way but then they shifted gears,” said Patel, who has supplied food and mentored the boys, telling them that if they really want to help, then find a way to keep it going.
Local stay-home orders also helped in a way. “We just have a lot of time on our hands so that’s why we started doing a lot of these projects because, instead of just gaming or playing video games all day, we could do something way more productive like this,” Khater said.
As a Keystone School student entering tenth grade, Khater also has another social entrepreneur project in the works that he calls “Counseling Connects,” a free college counseling program for low-income students.
For Dream Donations, the boys have been able to get the word out and raise funds through posts on the neighborhood social network NextDoor and the India Association of San Antonio. Khater’s school promoted the project in its weekly newsletter.
A GoFundMe page they set up had raised nearly $3,000 as of Sunday, and mowing a neighbor’s lawn over the weekend netted them another $150. They plan to do more.
Jain and Khater said they are glad they found a way to use their free time to do something positive at a time when the need is so great. With Jain’s family in India helping to feed hundreds of thousands, he is inspired to keep going not only on the Dream Donations project but also on the mobile app of the same name that they hope to resurrect in another month or two.