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Monday, May 18, 2015

Outreach ministry on bicycles in Memphis feeds and cares for those in need

Outreach ministry on bicycles in Memphis feeds and cares for those in need
By:  Michael Lander

There are usually two dozen or more cyclists who
voluntarily deliver meals for the Urban Bicycle Food
Ministry on Wednesday evenings.  They usually
have between 300 - 400 burritos to hand out to
the homeless and hungry of Memphis.

Bicycles can serve all kinds of different purposes for many different people whether they are ridden for fun, exercise, for competition, or as a way of getting around town.  In 2012, they also became an integral part of an innovative and faith-filled outreach ministry for some of the homeless and hungry in
Memphis.

This bicycle-driven outreach ministry in our city literally puts faith into action and volunteers into motion through its ecumenical, (multi-denominational), non-profit organization known as the
Urban Bicycle Food Ministry, (UBFM).

Volunteers come together at
First Church United Methodist on 204 N. Second St. every Wednesday evening and on Saturday morning where a handful of them prepare food and where a dozen to two dozen or more cyclists then span out in all different directions to distribute hundreds of warm meals, (often consisting of burritos), to those who are hungry and who live on our Memphis City streets.

Before they hit the streets, the volunteers are given
some last minutes information and instructions by
Frank Rouse, which is followed by a prayer.

Cycling enthusiast,
Rev. Tommy Clark, is the founder of UBFM. 

Clark, who graduated from
Memphis Theological Seminary in 2013, was inspired to begin this outreach ministry after taking a class in the summer of 2012.

“I took this class that was based around creating churches and ministries that are built on the foundation of facing outward and not inward.  Some people call it ‘a church without walls,’” Clark said.

The idea behind “a church without walls” is that churches are not so much about a building as they are about people and, in a broader sense, it can extend into the community or it can even encompass an entire city and beyond. 

Since cycling was a big part of his life, both competitively and as a means of transportation for him, Clark was especially interested in finding a way that he could take that and to somehow use it in an outreach ministry.

Cyclists travel in groups with some going a shorter
distance by covering the downtown area while
others go much further and ride toward midtown.

“I wanted to bring some of my friends together and deliver food to people on the streets while creating friendships and developing relationships and I wanted to do this via a bicycle,” Clark said.

After he conceived of the idea of doing this, he decided to go out and try this one Wednesday night by himself just to see how it would go.

“I made about 15 burritos, loaded them into my messenger bag, and rode around midtown and downtown in search of anyone in need.  It was probably the most spiritually moving experience of my life.  The response was amazing.  People hugged me, high-fived me, prayed with me, and one guy even tried to offer me all the change in his pocket,” Clark said.

From that experience, Clark knew he had found a way to reach out to his neighbors on the streets, to meet them, provide food and essential supplies, and to show them that they are loved, cared for, and being prayed for.

It takes volunteers like Amy Chadwick and Brent David,
on the left, and Jason Hill and David Corum, on the
right, well over an hour to prepare the meals, which
is often burritos, each Wednesday evening.

“The next day, I went to work, and told my friends about it, and they insisted that we do it again the following Wednesday.  We haven’t missed a Wednesday ride ever since.  Regardless of the weather, we ride.”

The ministry has grown since that first ride in 2012 and within months they were distributing 200 to 300 burritos along with a plethora of other necessities.  In early 2013, UBFM became a 501(c)3 non-profit charity and by the end of that year it found a home at First United Methodist Church.

UFBM is one of three ministries housed in an adjacent building, known as “
The Carpenter’s House,” which was purchased by the church in 2013.

In the summer of 2014, Clark was offered a church position in Columbia, Tenn., which he accepted only if he could return every other week to help out with UBFM operations.

After Clark’s departure, Frank Rouse took on more of a leadership role and it is one that he readily accepted.

Frank Rouse oversees many of the UBFM operations and
is one of those who delivers meals throughout
Memphis.

“The mission of our ministry is all about helping our fellow brothers and sisters who are in need and we have received a lot of support from individuals either through donations (
via PayPal at UBFM.net) or by people becoming directly involved themselves by volunteering to help prepare the food or by delivering it on a bicycle,” Rouse said.

“We have also gotten a lot of support from cycling groups like
901 Racing and businesses that have donated like Central BBQ, Los Compadres Mexican Restaurant, Associated Wholesale Grocers, Monogram Foods, and Nikki Schroders Hot Chips,” Rouse added.

Reginald “Reggie” McGregor, Sr., who is known throughout Memphis as "The Bike Man,” is one of the many volunteers who ride for UBFM and he recently has had his dog, Santana, accompanying him on his Wednesday evening rides.

Jason Hill is a Memphis Area Transit Authority
(MATA) employee during the day who
routinely volunteers to help UBFM with
preparing the meals on Wednesday
evening.

“By day, I am a fabricator and welder at Action Ornamental Iron, but in my off-time, I try to help and mentor others.  I have been involved with the Urban Bicycle Food Ministry for about six to seven months.  I like being a part of this because I am very blessed, myself, and I just want to give something back,” McGregor said.

For anyone interested in volunteering either in the kitchen or in delivering the food, they can learn more about UBFM by going to their website at
http://ubfm.net/. 

Cyclists who ride for UBFM will be asked to sign a waiver and, for their own safety, they should wear a helmet and have lights on the front and back of their bicycle.  They will also want to have something that they can carry food in.

The food preparation starts about 6 p.m. on Wednesday night and after some instructions and a prayer, the cyclists are put into groups and they leave the church at around 7:30 p.m.  From there, they span out, seeking the hungry and homeless, with some riding toward downtown and others going up various streets like Poplar and Madison Ave. toward midtown. 

Reginald McGregor, Sr., who is also known as "The
Bike Man," volunteers for various different
organizations like The Boys Club of Memphis.
He has helped with delivering meals for UBFM
for about six to seven months.

In almost three years since it began, UBFM has delivered thousands of meals, and some other necessities, to those who are homeless and hungry in our city.  While there have been many of those in need who have benefited from all this, those who have volunteered may have received just as much in return because of it, themselves.

“Helping those in need can be just as good for them and their souls as it is for ours,” Rouse said.

If a testament of one’s faith and compassion is evident in their actions, one might easily see it reflected in the efforts of those who prepare and deliver the food on a bicycle for UBFM and from that, the lives of our neighbors on our city streets, and our small part of the world here in Memphis, has been made all the better because of it.

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