AUSTIN (KXAN) — “How can I help?”
That is the question that Devin Robertson-Surfass and others found themselves asking as Austin was gripped by racial injustice protests this summer.
“I was just inspired to help in some way but I didn’t know exactly how,” he said.
After the deadly shooting of protester Garrett Foster at a demonstration in July, Robertson-Surfass and a group of friends found their purpose.
They formed Cooking For Causes — a group dedicated to providing a fresh meal to Austin’s homeless community once a week, inspired by Foster and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Based off stories I had heard about Garrett Foster, prior to his death, that was what he was starting,” Robertson-Surfass said. “Trying to get a group together to feed the community.”
Foster was a founding member of Austin Direct Action, which regularly donated food to the homeless, but his death brought the group to a standstill — its members grieving — and a small but important means of help for local homeless people was wiped out.
That’s where Cooking For Causes came in.
Keen to help the community in some way, and noticing the void left behind by Austin Direct Action, the group agreed to host weekly cookouts to benefit the homeless.
In recent weeks, the group has gathered every Wednesday to provide a pop-up food service, serving meals such as tacos and a spaghetti dinner, to homeless people living under I-35, next to the Austin Police Department’s headquarters.
On Sept. 2, they are delivering sandwiches filled with pulled pork, breaded chicken or turkey, as well as some vegan alternatives, along with coleslaw and beans.
The reception from those homeless people has been “great,” according to Robertson-Surfass.
“I want to be able to make sure that the people that are most affected by these protests got the support they need,” he said. “I feel that is the homeless people under the bridge next to APD.”
It’s not just food, either. Cooking For Causes also provides hygiene products — aiming to collect enough each week to offer a choice rather than handing out anything they have available.
Last week, one of the members of the group brought a clothes rack, providing the choice of a range of clothes for the homeless community.
“They really want conversations,” Robertson-Surfass added. “They want to be treated like humans.
“They are really appreciative of actual meals. It brings them joy.”
In a statement, Austin Direct Action’s Danielle Reichman said it is inspirational that other groups have maintained their work after Foster’s death.
“We chose the bridge across from APD to focus on caring for the houseless because by protesting against police brutality, we were taking up their space and needed to give back,” she said.
“It is inspirational to see how much this initiative has grown through other groups who have been touched by what Garrett and the rest of us were striving to accomplish with ADA.”
Cooking For Causes’ future is unclear. It is not a non-profit, with the core group of eight to 10 people funding food and hygiene supplies with their own money, as well as donations from friends and family.
The group say their weekly meals may only be temporary if Austin Direct Actions resumes its activities — but members say they plan to continue organizing and cooking under the banner of any like-minded group.