Despite the abundance of Mercedes-Benzes and million-dollar condos, not everyone in Miami is part of the one percent. Head to parts of downtown or Overtown, and it's clear that way too many locals are falling through the cracks, unable to access housing, food, or health care.
Local vegan Kevin Bodniza saw the problem and wanted to do something to help — something different from what's already been done. So he launched the program Happy Bellies, a food share that offers nourishing, plant-based eats to the city's homeless.
Bodniza has been vegan for five years and feels better than ever. So he decided to start sharing the abundance with those less fortunate.
"There are other organizations feeding the homeless in Miami, but it's not nourishing to say the least," he says. "Bologna sandwiches aren't feel-good food. I don't want to just get the job done and put something to hold them off until the next meal. The vision of Happy Bellies is to raise the vibe of low-income communities through living foods — colorful, delicious, and wholesome foods. And I get a kick out of seeing people's faces when they taste something for the first time."
Research has shown a strong correlation between lower socioeconomic status, unhealthy food, and a higher risk of chronic diseases (heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer, etc.), but many food outreach programs don't address this issue directly.
"There are certain parts of Miami ridden with homelessness and poverty that are so graphic that it's hard to just shake off," Bodniza says. "The people are hungry, so let's feed them something good. Especially in the diversity of Miami, most times homelessness is stigmatized and looked right past, but they're human beings."
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The group's first official event was held this past Thanksgiving at Government Center in downtown Miami. Volunteers handed out vegan food to more than 200 homeless people.
The next Happy Bellies feast will take place January 23 in Overtown. Bodniza encourages everyone to help. He also has a GoFundMe account set up so supporters can donate directly to the effort.
"We really encourage the youth to come out and get involved through serving at our food-sharing events.," he says. "It's humans feeding humans, plain and simple. It's a superinteractive experience and a sure way to gain perspective on the poverty that some people live in."