Burrito Bikers Deliver Meals on Two Wheels

A grassroots movement to help feed the homeless in Charlotte, North Carolina, takes on hunger, one burrito at a time

By Renee Schettler Rossi

Burrito Bikers Deliver Meals on Two Wheels

Burrito Bikers Deliver Meals on Two Wheels

John Oxrider was at a block party when neighbor Tommy Holderness mentioned he was delivering burritos on his bicycle early the next morning—for the homeless.

"I remember thinking, You're doing what?" says John. "It really intrigued me, so I volunteered to ride along."

That was four years ago. They've been delivering their backpacks of warm breakfast burritos to the homeless every Sunday morning since.

Tommy committed to the unusual weekend ritual after reading about cyclists in Los Angeles who delivered bean and rice burritos to folks living on Skid Row.

Inspired, he started spending his spare time before church on Sunday riding around central Charlotte, North Carolina, seeking the hungry. "At first it was a hard sell. These guys didn't know who I was—just some guy riding on a bicycle, offering them a bean and rice burrito at 8 a.m. They were understandably a little skeptical," he recalls. "They'd look at me like, Who the heck are you?"

It took persistence, but after patiently cycling in Sunday after Sunday after Sunday—and swapping rice and beans for a more breakfast-friendly burrito scramble—the silent stares were replaced with smiles and a chorus of "Hey, burrito man!"

As the number of hungry homeless who showed up for burritos swelled from two dozen to nearly 50, so did the grassroots brigade of volunteers known as the Burrito Bikers. About 40 families now donate their time, goodwill and burrito-rolling skills. Margo Wells, a friend of John's, looped in more friends, neighbors, co-workers and parishioners who volunteer to cook, ride or do both.

Small Acts, Big Difference

Those who ride know they deliver more than just a burrito. "Let's face it, we're not solving the homeless problem in Charlotte," says John. "I've learned that when you show up for someone every week, it makes a difference.

"At first I thought I was doing something for people living on the street," he says. "But I think the far bigger impact is on our families. It really makes you stop and think."

Parents especially value Burrito Bikers as a way to engage their children in conversation about larger issues. "It's so easy, and it takes no time at all," says Dianne Bailey, whose family regularly forms an assembly line in the kitchen to make burritos. "The kids can mix things up and wrap the tortillas around the filling. And it really makes them feel connected to the people we feed."

Recipe for Sharing

It all starts with Tommy's simple recipe: scrambled eggs, sausage, Tater Tots and cheddar cheese wrapped in flour tortillas. The burritos are dropped off Saturday evening at the home of the biker leading the next day's ride. The next morning, warm burritos are packed in insulated bags and doled out to the cyclists for the four-mile ride to central Charlotte.

Burrito Bikers Deliver Meals on Two Wheels

Unofficial Burrito Bikers offshoots have popped up elsewhere, including one in Greensboro organized by Tommy's brother, Hayes. "When it comes down to it, this is an incredible group of people who love to cook, love to bike and who really care about other people," says John. "This is a way to do all of that."

Sharing and Caring

The Burrito Bikers bundle up breakfast burritos made from scrambled eggs, sausage, cheese, potatoes, and a lot of care. They make about 50 burritos each Saturday night to warm up and deliver the next morning. The Sunday morning ritual includes sharing and connecting with others.