Henry’s Ford’s assembly line has nothing on Jerry Boykin’s assembly line. Every Wednesday, he parks his food truck near the corner of Woodward Avenue and Peterboro, known to be a homeless haven, to feed and clothe those in need. One volunteer passes out the chips and fruit, another gives away pizza and sandwiches, and at the end, clothes, underwear, socks, and other goods are given away. And when he and his volunteers are done there, they head over to the Rosa Parks Transit Center downtown to be a blessing to those waiting for their bus.
It is all a part of his “Free Lunch Wednesdays” campaign, through his We Are One Community Unity grassroots outreach program. Boykin, who grew up on Detroit’s west side, and attended Mumford High, pulled his inspiration to help the city’s homeless and less fortunate from when he first did it as teenager.
“My parents took me down to feed the homeless when I was 14 and I didn’t make it back for about 20 years,” said Boykin. “Once I got back, I decided to do it every Wednesday, and we’ve been coming down here to feed about 400 people. This is our eighth year feeding the people of Detroit and I see no plans on slowing down.”
Boykin does his service to the community in two areas of the city where private development is booming. On Woodward and Peterboro, one side of the intersection has seen an influx of pricey lofts and restaurants erected. On the other side, the homeless population is very visible, loitering and panhandling at the check cashing store and Detroit One Coney Island. The homeless population is going uncared for during Detroit’s resurgence and it is caring citizens such as Boykin who are filling the void.
“If everybody helped somebody, then nobody would need anything,” said Boykin. “Everybody is in different walks of life right now, so, it’s just important for us to give to others, if we have it to give. There are so many people who have given up on life and a sandwich, or some socks can change their mind about taking their own life. Showing them genuine love can go a long way.”
Before Boykin arrived in his truck, there was line of people waiting on him on Woodward and Peterboro. At the transit center, the people were glad to see him because some had not eaten in days. Even the bus drivers stopped by on their breaks to grab some hot chocolate and a granola bar. The people know Boykin’s name and he knows theirs. The same goes with his volunteers. To them, Free Lunch Wednesdays is more than just giving away food to people you do not know: it is a family gathering.
“I’ve been doing this for two years and I’ve established so many relationships down here,” said volunteer Camille Johnson. “The people down here look for us and we look for them. Sometimes, when people go missing and we don’t see them for a while, we tend to go look for them. They become like family to us and a part of our lives. Some of them have our cellphone numbers and it’s no problem if they call us. You want to show them that you love them.”
Boykin and his volunteers wear shirts and hoodies that read “I’m A Blessing” on the front. That is his movement, in a subliminal kind of way. The message is not about the person wearing the shirt, rather the work they are putting into the community. Boykin said he does not plan out his Wednesdays. He puts the word out on social media and people show up with food and other donations. That is how far his reach and impact is and he has truly become a blessing to the homeless community in Detroit. What began with Boykin feeding just a few people out the trunk of his car, has grown to feeding hundreds of people from his food truck, physically and spiritually.
“What Jerry is doing for us down here is beautiful and needed,” said Joseph Landers, who is currently homeless. “Right now, I’m staying in the shelter overnight and when they put us out, I come over here to get food. And he’s here no matter what the weather is. If I haven’t eaten in days, I know that I will on Wednesdays when Jerry shows up to feed us. So many of us over depend on him and his good deeds.”