Through charitable acts, spoiled kids learn that all people have value, no matter who they are.
When he feared his son had become too spoiled, a San Diego father came up with a unique solution: He made breakfast burritos. Sixty of them, to be exact.
A lesson in appreciation quickly turned into a charitable act of feeding San Diego’s homeless — and now it has blossomed into a life-changing nonprofit called the Burrito Boyz.
“I didn’t know if I was upset with my son for asking for these expensive gifts, or upset with myself because he was comfortable asking,” said Johnson.
“Several years ago my family was asking what my sons wanted for Christmas, so my son, Alec, and his best friend, Luke — they were both 12 — put together a Christmas list,” Michael Johnson, 49, told LifeZette. “On it was iPhones, iPads, a MacBook Air — even an authentic and signed Tom Brady jersey.”
Johnson had a “light bulb” moment reading the lists, one that led to immediate introspection. “I didn’t know if I was upset with my son for asking, or upset with myself because he was comfortable asking. No shame on them — they had been asked, and they answered.”
Johnson and his wife, Mehrnaz, considered ways to give their son and his friend some perspective.
“That weekend, we made 60 egg-and-cheese burritos,” he said. “We went downtown with them to where the homeless community gathers, and we went from sleeping bag to sleeping bag, handing out the burritos. Luke’s dad came, too. What the kids thought was a punishment was instead something that was very fulfilling.”
Since that time in November 2010, the Burrito Boyz have gotten up every Sunday at 6:30 a.m. to make breakfast burritos for San Diego’s homeless — and they’ve done it now for 298 consecutive Sundays.
Comprised of a core team of seven high school boys and many volunteers, they’ve served more than 133,354 breakfast burritos so far.
The boys soon brought other kids on board to help, and today the Burrito Boyz (there are Burrito Babes, too) have over 500 children who can volunteer to serve the homeless on any given Sunday through various organizations.
“I have one business that has contributed financially for nine months, and they currently offset about one-third of our costs,” Johnson explained. “Trader Joe’s grocers in the area also provides eggs. They have to throw out each dozen eggs when only one is cracked, so those ‘spoiled dozens’ go to good use with us. We haven’t paid for one egg since they became involved.”
“The kids have learned so much — the appreciation they have for others is amazing,” Johnson said. “The relationship that they have with their parents, and the relationship that my son has with my wife and me, have changed for the better. Compassion has grown.”
Cordaryl Johnson, who is in his 20s, is one of those people the Burrito Boyz are serving.
“This is God working in mysterious ways,” he told People magazine. Johnson is an unemployed construction worker, and his wife and children have been living out of two cars for the past several weeks.
“The people we serve are no different than the people who have made the burritos. Of course there are those who unfortunately are dealing with mental illness, but many have just fallen on hard times,” said Michael Johnson. “There are many homeless children, don’t forget.”
“We have 400 people who live in our building, and we take care of them.”
“The kids also see that they can be nice to that kid in school that is an outsider,” he continued. “And they can do little things like giving someone a smile or a handshake that makes all the difference.”
The Burrito Boyz have changed Johnson’s career path, too.
“I worked in marketing and promotions for 30 major league baseball teams for over 20 years,” he said. “And it was wonderful. But I realize I was looking more forward to Sundays — spending time with my son, his friends, and the homeless community — than I was Monday-Friday working with spoiled athletes.”
Johnson is now vice president of the San Diego Rescue Mission.
“We have 400 people who live in our building, and we take care of them,” he said. “What fuels me, though, is my Sundays.”
“We show the homeless community that we’re not giving up on them, so they shouldn’t give up on themselves,” Michael’s son, Alec, the original Burrito Boy, told People.com.
“This is God working in mysterious ways,” one homeless man said.
Burrito Boyz also now provide books, toiletries, and clothing to the homeless as well, Johnson said.
“It’s heartwarming to know that someone cares,” Eddie, 60, also a former construction worker who is now homeless, told People. “They treat us like human beings. They’re not just a charity. They’re our friends.”
San Diego City Councilman Scott Sherman also told the publication the homeless population has spiked dramatically since 2008. “These boys aren’t just giving handouts, but a hand up by showing them that everyday people care.” Many of these homeless are veterans, said Sherman.
The friendship and full stomachs have changed the hearts and futures of many homeless. “Once we get on our feet,” Johnson, the homeless man living in a car, told People, “I’ll be right back here helping to volunteer.”
Johnson, the Burrito Boyz founder, said, “One of the best things we hear is, ‘I won’t be seeing you again — I’m back on my feet, and moving on.'”