Spotlight on Giving: Chilis on Wheels founder, Michelle Carrera


Chilis on Wheels, an organization that works to spread veganism and feed the hungry of NYC. What better way is there to spread love? I first met Michelle through a friend at a vegan event. She is an amazing, sweet person and I soon learned of her organization Chilis on Wheels.

Chilis on Wheels prepares vegan chili to hand out to those who are hungry. They also distribute fruit, water and bread as well as hope, kindness and love. At Tompkins Square Park and other locations, Chilis on Wheels sets up on Saturday afternoons to hand out their food, while chatting with people who approach their table. Some people stop by to drop donations, vegans who've heard of Chilis on Wheels and love what they do. Others stop by just to hang out and see what the veganteers are doing. Vegans gather to socialize, give and receive love and spread their message.


I volunteered with Chilis on Wheels last weekend and their work really tugged at my heart strings. The gratitude in the eyes of the people we served was so touching; the experience left me feeling grateful and happy. We also gave out pamphlets on veganism so that people knew why we were serving vegan chili and what the vegan lifestyle is all about.

Chilis on Wheels is an organization that is in alignment with my values: spreading love for animals and the earth while feeding humans. I can't wait to volunteer again this weekend. I interviewed Michelle to find out more about what goes on behind the scenes with her organization, why she started Chilis on Wheels and what she sees in the future for her organization. If you are a New Yorker, vegan or not, come by and help Chilis on Wheels hand out healthy, hot meals. Lend them your social media, photography or video skills or spread the word about Chilis on Wheels with your connections. If you own a car and can help Chilis on Wheels once a month pick up items, email rockys@chilisonwheels.org



If I could tell the world just one thing
It would be that we're all ok
And not to worry because worry is wasteful
And useless in times like these
I will not be made useless
I won't be idle with despair
I will gather myself around my faith
For light does the darkness most fear
In the end, only kindness matters ~ Jewel

What was the inspiration behind Chilis on Wheels?
 A year ago on Thanksgiving, I wanted to teach my son Ollie, then 4 years old, about community. I wanted to have him connect with people and understand the concept of working together in service of others. Because there are no vegan soup kitchens in NYC, I decided to make a few vegan meals myself and distribute them. It was supposed to be a one-time thing, maybe a tradition that we carried out every Thanksgiving, but once we were out meeting people, seeing the reality of hunger, I could not turn away. I had to do more.


How long have you been vegan?
I have been vegan for 14 years, since 2001 when I was 21 years old. Ollie has been vegan since birth. My sister had received a baby chick for Easter from her school, and he grew up into a rooster. His name was PiolĂ­n, and he was so affectionate, so intelligent, so amazing. His love was so powerful, I could not eat any meat after him. After a few weeks of abstaining from meat, I looked up vegetarianism on AOL, our dialup internet (there was no google around at the time and I had never even heard the word “vegan”) and learned about the dairy and egg industry and about all the other instances of animal exploitation and use and I delved all in to the vegan lifestyle.

What preparation goes into making the chili?
Everything starts on Thursdays when I go to different markets to purchase the ingredients. The dry beans are soaked on Friday- the vegetables chopped- and the chili is cooked on Friday night. It is individually packed every Saturday morning. We are looking for volunteers that have a car and that have a flexible schedule to take us to Restaurant Depot once a month where we can pick up items in bulk for a fraction of the cost.


When and where do you serve the chili and how can people sign up to help?
 In NYC, we serve chili every Saturday at 1pm in Tompkins Square Park. We also have mobile teams in different locations throughout the city, routes have not yet been established, and we are experimenting with finding where the need is. We also have chapters in several cities like San Diego, Denver, and Puerto Rico. If you would like to volunteer, please email our Volunteer Coordinator, Rocky Schwartz at rockys@chilisonwheels.org or visit our website and fill out a volunteer form at www.chilisonwheels.org
Although we can always take volunteers to help us distribute the food, we mostly need people with special skills like writing, or video, photography, people with connections to vegan restaurants or vegan companies, people that can help us shape the organization and make it grow so we can serve more people in need and spread the message of veganism.

What has the response been like for your organization?
The response has been amazing. We have met a number of vegans who are homeless or otherwise experiencing financial hardship for whom a vegan meal makes a difference. From them we have learned that shelters and soup kitchens have hardly any vegan options. (in some instances even the safe salad is already mixed with a dairy dressing). People are very appreciative, and because we have already built a connection to the community, people wait for us and look for us, and some even call us “The Chili Ladies” (we are for the most part, women).
The response from the vegan community has also been great. We even had the pleasure of having Alicia Silverstone’s son Bear and husband Christopher volunteer with us over the summer. There are few options for vegans who also want to be of service to people, to be able to volunteer with their children while maintaining the vegan message.


What do you see as the future for chilis on wheels?
 We will continue to grow and expand and serve more and more vegan meals while also helping bring veganism to communities of low-income. We want to have our own space where people can come in and have their vegan meal, where we can hold vegan cooking classes for the community, and be a vegan food hub. At the end of the day, we are here to help each other. When we ask Ollie what his purpose is he replies “To be a good guy” and that is our purpose as well- to be a force of kindness in our communities, in the world- dishing out compassion.

Visit www.chilisonwheels.org for more information.
Facebook: chilisonwheels
Twitter: chilisonwheels
Instagram: chilisonwheels