Mindful Bigs Inspiring Littles Spotlight: Middle Schoolers Making Lunches for the Homeless

For the past year and a half, middle school students at Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School in Moraga, CA have given up their lunch period to make lunches for a homeless community just a few miles down the road at the Oakland/Emeryville border. 

Led by math teacher Brett Lorie and a handful of dedicated parents, the students are learning firsthand how they can make a difference in their community.

Here is the story of 10,000 Lunches…

A History of Service

Over the past 15 years, Brett Lorie has initiated a variety of programs at his middle school to provide students an opportunity to give back and instill in them that no matter how young you are, you can make a difference in the world.  

10,000 Lunches was founded by Brett and parents Kim Anderson and Matt Vattuone in January 2018. The name “10,000 Lunches” originates from Brett’s aspiration to one day serve 10,000 lunches to the homeless. 

Before 10,000 Lunches, though, Brett, along with the aid of a handful of dedicated teachers and parents, spearheaded several other volunteer programs with his students. First, he and the students created a toy drive for two elementary schools in Concord. Next, they served the homeless at Glide Memorial Church in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. And most recently, they visited the Loaves and Fishes center in Martinez to make hot breakfasts and bagged lunches for the community-in-need there.

Brett’s early inspiration grew from discussions with his peers. 

“We had conversations centering on how fortunate we were and are to live in the community that we do and have the opportunities we have,” he says. “Initially, it was an opportunity for us to try to make a difference, however small it might be. But as we had kids of our own, we realized this was an important lesson for them to learn, and a wonderful chance for it to become part of their day-to-day life from an early age.”

Weekly Operations

10,000 Lunches currently operates out of Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School. Each week 10 to 12 students and two to three adults volunteer their time during lunch period to prepare approximately 100 bagged lunches. 

All students, grades 6ththrough 8th, have the opportunity to volunteer; students register in advance via a sign-up sheet. At the beginning of each week, adult volunteers place an order through Costco for most of the supplies. Volunteers supplement by donating bread, bananas, and dog food.  

On Fridays, they convene in the “foods room.” After spending a few minutes quickly eating their own lunches, they get to work. Each bag contains a peanut butter sandwich, a turkey and cheese sandwich, two granola bars, an instant oatmeal packet, a banana, mustard, mayo, jelly, and two bottles of water. The turkey sandwiches are refrigerated overnight and the lunches are picked up on Saturday morning for delivery.

Over the summer, local swim clubs and other sports teams volunteer their time to prepare lunches each week.

At their current rate of 100 meals per week, students and volunteers have already surpassed the halfway mark to Brett’s dream of delivering 10,000 lunches.

Going Beyond Delivery

To ensure student safety, adult volunteers currently deliver the weekly meals. Founders Brett, Kim, and Matt explored a few areas of homeless encampments before deciding to work with the one at Peralta and 34th Street near the Oakland/Emeryville border.

They tend to see many of the same people when they distribute the bagged lunches each week and have garnered additional insight from them through occasional deeper discussions. “The thing that stands out to me is how much they appreciate when we simply listen to them,” Kim shares.

“For example, we spoke with a young man a few months back who told us that it gets very cold at night and that hand warmers can make a huge difference. One of our parent volunteers got wind of the story and donated money for us to purchase several hundred handwarmers. When we went back the following week and saw the young man, he was so proud that something he had suggested had come to fruition,” she explains. 

The founders agree that seeing the appreciation on the faces of those they’re helping when they deliver the meals and explain that they were made by middle school students is “rewarding beyond words.”

The students also experience gratification from giving back. Eighth grader Zoe explains, “Mr. Lorie has told us that when he goes to drop off the food, this is sometimes the only meal for these people in a day or a couple of days. He always tells us that the people want him to bring back their thanks to the lunch makers. It is nice to know how much these lunches mean. We’ve also started adding oatmeal, dog food and socks in addition to the basic lunch. [We’re] trying to provide these people with more comforts.”

Yet Brett and his team are also faced with the stark realization that the pool of people in need is beyond their current capabilities.

On the Horizon

To that end, 10,000 Lunches is considering future growth opportunities. Although still in the brainstorming stage, ideas include: involving more schools, increasing fundraising to make more lunches and/or purchase other necessities, and finding a kitchen in Oakland where the students can assemble meals and have more contact with the community they’re helping.

If you are interested in supporting this incredible organization, monetary donations can be made on their website, 10000lunches.org, To donate food, supplies, or dog food, or to volunteer your time to deliver meals, contact Brett at brett@10000lunches.org.