Canisius College Burrito Project

November 30, 2016 By Gary Steltermann

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On the fourth Tuesday of every month, Canisius community members gather in an unlikely spot to start a night of service - a basement kitchen. Beginning at 6:00 p.m. in the undercroft of Canisius’ Christ the King Chapel, volunteers make more than 100 burritos. Truly a sight to see, the process is over before it seems to begin as the burritos move down the assembly line to be filled, rolled and placed into coolers. Participating in the Burrito Project, campus community members then deliver fresh home-made burritos to the poor and homeless population in downtown Buffalo.

Students, staff and faculty members begin their four-mile route in downtown Buffalo. The routes vary each month but include stops around Lafayette Square and parks in the heart of the city.

The Burrito Project is a national initiative but each one takes on its own characteristics, as there is no wrong way to help those in need. For instance, in Montreal volunteers deliver vegan cupcakes and other treats with the burritos. Here at Canisius, volunteers hand out iced tea during the warm months and hot tea during the cold ones (which are plentiful).

Brought to campus in 2008 by Joe Van Volkenburg, associate campus minister, the ministry sets out to serve some of the most vulnerable and forgotten of our society. 

“Campus Ministry worked closely with the Buffalo Chapter of the Burrito Project for several years,” says Van Volkenburg. “The program became very popular with Canisius students because it is direct service to the poorest of the poor.”

Due to the popularity with students, it was agreed that Canisius would be responsible for the fourth week of the month.

“It is a very powerful experience to travel downtown in our vans, walk on the streets and hand a homeless person a burrito, cookies, some candy and offer a drink,” adds Van Volkenburg. “Many students have conversations with those in need and what they often find is an ‘attitude of gratitude.’ It is humbling.”

Steve Liebig, mail stock lead in the Canisius mailroom, is a regular in the undercroft. “It’s a way I can give back,” he says. “I like watching the kids,” Liebig adds. “During the course of the year, students come each month and they become more confident each time in giving out direction.”

Cam MacDonald, a senior on the swimming team and a work study in Campus Ministry says “After my first time volunteering for the Burrito Project, I saw the positive impact it has on the community and I continued to be drawn back time and again.”

“My favorite part, besides helping the homeless of our community, is all the conversations that we have with those who we serve,” MacDonald adds. “Everyone has a story and the amazing people we meet love to tell theirs.”­­­

On the rare occasion that not all of the food is given out, it never goes to waste. Volunteers drop off the extra food at St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy or the Little Portion Friary. The agencies then distribute the burritos to their visitors.

For more information and to sign up, contact Joe Van Volkenburg at 716-888-2875 or at vanvolkj@canisius.edu.

Watch a video on the Burrito Project here.