University of New Mexico alum Ryan Evans spent his Saturday participating in National Random Acts of Kindness Day and giving back to Albuquerque.
Evans and 10 other volunteers involved in Heart of Albuquerque — a nonprofit organization — distributed over 100 sacked lunches to homeless and struggling community members in Downtown Albuquerque.
National Random Acts of Kindness Day is not his first time volunteering. He has also volunteered in food drives and in classrooms, discussing college prep-plans.
Evans said volunteering means to “give your time and energy to people who don’t have the same things as you do and to give back to the community.”
The volunteers range in age from eight to 53.
Lunches consisted of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chips, apples, oranges, peanuts and juice or water — volunteers also distributed hygiene kits consisting of toothbrushes and toothpaste.
HOA cofounder Nicole Mestas helped start the nonprofit two years ago. She said the world is a rough place, and people need help from time to time.
“People are suffering. People are sleeping outside in the cold, while others are living as rich as they possibly can. We all have to come together,” she said.
The group walked more than 25 blocks up and down Central Avenue, providing necessities that were almost always accepted when offered.
Michael Hastcoat, faces struggles, but not with food — bound to a wheelchair, he struggles with interactions with other homeless individuals.
“Somebody has to be really stupid not to eat. There are too many places to get free food, but it’s not the food and stuff I worry about — it’s all the little (things),” he said.
Hastcoat is a two-time victim of theft and used to live in a motel, he said. He now finds himself living in the streets after violating violating the motel’s rules by inviting other vagrants to stay with him.
“I let some people stay with me, because...it’s cold outside at night. I got thrown out because of that,” he said.
Fall of 2017, Albuquerque city councilors passed the Pedestrian Safety Ordinance, which aims to deter motorists from interacting with panhandlers on sidewalks or medians.
Sarah Lopez, a volunteer, was afraid that this ordinance will restrict the organization’s ability to go “where (they) go down the freeway and give stuff at every light.”
On Feb. 13, Albuquerque city councilors agreed to not enforce the anti-panhandling ordinance after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the City of Albuquerque to appeal the measure on Jan. 11, according to an ACLU press release.
Lopez said she wants to help the less fortunate and give them what they need.
As of January 2017, there are more than 1,300 homeless people, and more than 180 homeless children, living in Albuquerque, according to a survey by the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness.
Mestas said seeing homeless children weighs on her the most.
“It breaks my heart to see the little kids out here and when it’s freezing cold at night…You know that they’re suffering,” she said.
But Mestas gets past that pain by doing “something to help it.”
Evans does not find that the work weighs on him, but he said he wants to see more psychiatric and medical help provided for the homeless.
He said he wants to return to UNM to become a dentist, providing dental care to homeless citizens.
“I could come back and organize dental days where we offer free dental care...oral hygiene classes (and) get something like that organized once a month within (Heart of Albuquerque),” he said.
Anthony Jackson is a freelance reporter with the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TonyAnjackson.