Blaize Abuntori, a graduate student and teaching assistant in the University of Nevada, Reno Statistics & Data Science Program, started handing out burritos to people in Reno without shelter and ended up creating the Reno Burrito Project, which is now distributing hundreds of burritos a week.
As an international student from northern Ghana, Abuntori was struck by how many people in Reno were in need of resources. In his community, those who needed support were always given a place to sleep and eat. Although he couldn’t provide shelter, he bought $20 worth of burritos and handed them out downtown. Realizing he could get more bang for his buck and provide more burritos if he made his own, Abuntori and his friends started buying ingredients and making their own burritos, handing out 15 to 30 each week to the homeless around town.
Realizing that this still wasn’t enough, Abuntori started to reach out to his friends and colleagues in the College of Science for assistance. A GoFundMe virtual money-raising account was set up for the project and began gaining momentum. The initial GoFundMe, which had a goal to provide 100 burritos a week for a year, raised over $8,000. The money, combined with an influx of volunteer support to cook and distribute the burritos, has resulted in distributing up to 200 burritos weekly.
The project also garnered support from across campus. After hearing about the GoFundMe through the outreach of the students involved, Marjorie Matocq, a professor in the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Science, donated $500 on behalf of her lab and challenged others in the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology & Natural Resources to match that donation. The call to action inspired other faculty and staff in the College to donate as well.
“Our lab supports a lot of community outreach and education efforts typically through our own time and volunteer efforts,” Matocq said. “When I heard about the GoFundMe, I wanted to take the opportunity to help out in a slightly different way. The caliber of community assistance that the project offers is inspiring, and I wanted to support it any way that I could.”
In addition to food, the project has been able to provide additional services. Volunteers offer hygiene kits, books, art supplies and a hand-washing station.
“In Ghana, we always said that a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” Abuntori said. “My mentor told me that if I wanted to make a difference, I just needed to start no matter how small. I’m so happy the project gained momentum so that we can help more people than when we started.”
Abuntori is planning for the project to continue for as long as possible. Although he graduates next spring, the project is being organized so that continued volunteer support and donations will ensure it is carried on, even if Abuntori isn’t present.
“The biggest impact I’ve seen is the relationships we’ve been able to build,” Abuntori said. “We’ve been able to help those in need, but in return they’ve shared with us their stories and lives that help us grow as people.”
To donate or volunteer, visit the Reno Burrito Project’s Instagram page. The page hosts information for volunteer sign-ups and information on donating food, supplies or funds.