Pizza Treat for the Street founder knows homelessness too well
Crystal Anderson started Pizza Treat for the Street 3 years after being homeless herself
Crystal Anderson's response to three people with a sign saying they were hungry was different from most stay-at-home moms driving through Osborne Village.
"I can afford to buy five Big Macs," she thought, and acted — even though as a single mom who relies on social assistance, there isn't a lot extra in her budget.
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Those five Big Macs have since turned into five extra-large pizzas, which she serves to around 30 people on the streets in Winnipeg's poorest neighbourhoods on Saturday nights with help from people through social media.
Anderson said she's received donations from as far away as Fox Lake, Man., and there's now a wait list to join her in her purple PT Cruiser as she delivers hot meals on cold nights.
Her efforts have joined the ranks of independently organized, social-media-driven endeavours to bring food to Winnipeg's homeless population.
A number of other groups and individuals who distribute food to Winnipeg street people have gained momentum from social media, including Got Bannock, run by Althea Guiboche, also known as the "Bannock Lady"; Lunches with Love, launched in 2012 by Nathan Unrau; and Feed My Lambs, founded in 2007 by Hilde Purdy.
They all more or less started the same way Pizza Treat for the Street did — with one person who wanted to do a good deed acting and inspiring others.
Vanessa Gamblin, the managing director of Siloam Mission's drop-in, says what she calls a "boom" in such efforts has been fed by people's ability to organize online.
"The mom with the pizza who's struggling herself, she really gets the gist of it," Gamblin said about Anderson.
Anderson knows what's it's like to be hungry and homeless. For a week, when she was a teenager, she lived on the street until family members stepped in to help her.
"All I remember about that one week was I was so hungry. I was just hungry," she said.
Anderson still struggles to make ends meet, she said, but she's come a long way and wants to give back.
"There's a lot of people there that got me on my feet, and I don't know how to thank them. This is my way of showing my thanks to them by passing it on, by paying it forward, by showing other people that there is people out there who care, and we're willing to take that extra step," she said.
Anderson's own family hasn't had pizza since she started giving it away, but her 16-year-old son hasn't complained, she said.
In fact, Dawson Spence has twice helped her hand out the pizza slices he no longer gets.
"I'm honestly OK with that, because it's sacrifice, you know, for someone else to eat and have something in their stomach," he said.
"In words, I cannot describe how proud of my mom I am, because she's such a great person, and she's going out of her way to go hand out pizzas."
Also praising her efforts is Husain Mohamed, manager of Flying Pizza on Sargent Avenue at Arlington Street, which makes Anderson's Saturday night pizzas at a discount.
"It's a very good idea. I hope many people do [the] same. It makes people happy," Mohamed said.
With the Winnipeg Street Census counting 1,400 homeless people in the city on one night in fall, and about one-third living with absolute homelessness — no provisional accommodation in transitional housing at an institution or with a friend or family member — the help is needed, Anderson said.
"What can we do to help them?" she asked.