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Dubuque cycling group takes free meals to people in need

Jim Saul, left, and Melinda Vize, both of Dubuque, ride around delivering burritos and other sandwiches as part of the Urban Bicycle Food Mission in Dubuque on Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018. (Eileen Meslar/Telegraph Herald via AP)
Jim Saul, left, and Melinda Vize, both of Dubuque, ride around delivering burritos and other sandwiches as part of the Urban Bicycle Food Mission in Dubuque on Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018. (Eileen Meslar/Telegraph Herald via AP)

DUBUQUE (AP) — Melinda Vize carefully placed the box in a two-wheeled bicycle trailer. Intended for children, the trailer instead safeguarded carefully wrapped burritos and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

While Vize packed the food and prepared her bicycle, another member of Urban Bicycle Food Mission Dubuque handed burritos and cookies to a group of seven men waiting outside Dubuque Rescue Mission.

There would be dozens of additional burritos provided to people during an evening of food deliveries by bicyclists with Vize’s group throughout downtown Dubuque.

“I thought it would be a good way for the cycling community to give back to the community,” Vize told the Telegraph Herald . “We’re serving food, but the real goal is to make connections with people.”

Vize launched Urban Bicycle Food Mission Dubuque earlier this summer, patterning her effort on the work of a similar group that has operated for several years in Des Moines.
“Some friends were participating (in the Des Moines group), and I thought we could do something like that in Dubuque,” she said.

Every Sunday afternoon, Vize and other volunteers meet in the kitchen of Dubuque Rescue Mission, where they prepare food with donated ingredients. One recent Sunday, Vize and a small crew made 56 burritos and 22 sandwiches for delivery. Those items were paired with a small dessert and a bottle of water.

“Typically, we have five folks doing food preparation, and the number of riders varies from four to 15,” Vize said. “Safety is a concern and a priority, so we never go out in groups of less than four riders.”

Once prepared, volunteers pack the food into boxes or place items in the saddlebags of bicycles. Groups of four bicyclists each then follow predetermined routes that bring the meals to homeless shelters and other locations around downtown.

“We generally stay in the downtown area — the hills can be a challenge,” Vize said. “We are continuously striving to identify and understand the need in the community, so our routes are always changing.”

Current delivery stops include the Crescent Community Health Center parking lot, Jackson Park and various homeless shelters.

Vize and three other bicyclists set off from Dubuque Rescue Mission, stopping first in the Town Clock Plaza area before riding a few blocks to Teresa Shelter to deliver meals.

“We are very appreciative of the support we get from the community, and this is a unique group,” said Carol Gebhart, executive director of Opening Doors, the Dubuque nonprofit organization that operates Teresa Shelter and Maria House. “For our ladies, it’s a very special treat to not have to use their resources for meals. Someone else prepared it and delivered it.”

Brian Cluff, of Dubuque, helped prepare the burritos, stirring a pot of beans, beef and rice before other volunteers wrapped the mixture in tortillas. Later, Cluff loaded his bike and rode along with Vize’s group to help make deliveries.

“It seems like a Christian thing to do,” he said.

Private donations have covered the cost of the meals’ ingredients, and Vize has applied for grants to help sustain her group’s efforts.

“Our program is just getting started,” she said.

Vize creates a weekly event on the group’s Facebook page, and the social media response helps gauge how much help will be available for each Sunday.

“Some people also just show up,” she said. “It can be a challenge because every week people are busy.”

Vize picked Sunday evenings for deliveries because it best fit the group members’ schedules and the deliveries could be made on a night of the week not frequently covered by other local nonprofit organizations that provide community meals.

“We didn’t want to have competing services,” Vize said.

There are no sign-ups or registrations required for deliveries.

“We post signs around town, and then we just ride out to certain areas,” Vize said. “I worked with the Homeless Advisory Coalition of Dubuque, and they gave me a lot of great information about where to find people. Nothing goes to waste. Anything that’s left over, we donate to the (Dubuque Rescue) Mission, the Hope House, the Teresa Shelter or Maria House.”

Gebhart recently received a call from Vize.

“Melinda reached out and said, ‘Mind if we roll on by?’ and I welcomed it,” Gebhart said. “These bicyclists ride around for recreation, and it’s really cool that they said, ‘Hey, let’s do something to help.’”

Dubuque resident Emerald Frommelt and her 9-year-old daughter Vivian helped prepare the meals and rode their bikes with a delivery group one recent Sunday.

“It’s a good opportunity to be a steward for the community,” Frommelt said. “And it’s something we can do together, as a mother-daughter team.”

Vize hopes to attract more volunteers for the group and seeks to continue deliveries — no matter the weather.

“We plan to go year-round,” she said. “Depending on the (winter) temperatures, we could decide to go by car.”

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