With all the flare of a hometown carnival—complete with music, cotton candy, popcorn, and salsa dancing—volunteers feed those experiencing food insecurity and homelessness in the most unique and festive setting.
“This is our fun table,” Volunteer Manager Samantha Buffaloe explains. “Just because you’re experiencing homelessness doesn’t mean you don’t like to have fun,” she says. “That’s why we bring music, popcorn, and snow cone machines—to liven up the mood and have a fun time.”
Every Tuesday at 5 p.m. in a parking lot in Tempe, hundreds of people, families, and pets in need have come to know and rely on this outdoor tailgate of sorts, all put on by the Aris Foundation and its founder, Katherine Kouvelas-Edick—along with an army of volunteers and partners.
“We try to make it super festive,” Kouvelas-Edick says. “Some people call it a ‘homeless carnival.’ I love that! And when it gets colder, we bring out the coffee and hot cocoa.”
Kouvelas-Edick started this feeding program seven years ago at Jaycee Park in Tempe, where she says 250 people would come out each week. Eventually, she was blocked by the city, but Kouvelas-Edick refused to be discouraged or shut down. Instead, she moved the entire operation to the Mountain Park Health Center on Broadway Road, and with a special event permit, she was back in business. Her partners and helpers followed suit, including Crossroads Rehab Centers, who came equipped with vans and the ability to feed.
“We transported everybody over here when they changed locations a year ago, so they’d all know where to go,” explains Greg Halvorson, outreach and marketing manager for Crossroads. “This is part of our community. And that’s what we do.”
Each week, a different food vendor provides hundreds of hot meals. On this night, the Crossroads team and its chef served up freshly made burritos as folks lined up, some with kids and dogs in tow. There is also a dessert station where Crumbl cookies are on the menu, to-go sack lunches, a dog food and treat corner, a little library, a swap meet-style clothing section, and a table with brand new sleeping bags.
“At first, I thought the goal was to get them off the streets, but that’s not the goal. I just want to love them where they’re at,” says Kouvelas-Edick, explaining that these nights are not about planning for the future or trying to “fix” anybody’s problems; rather, they are about providing people with food and essentials to get them through another day.
Outside of the dinner tailgate, The Aris Foundation—named after the Greek god of war, symbolizing courage and honoring the small village where Kouvelas-Edick’s father was born—helps people with resources such as money management, housing opportunities, substance abuse, and more.
There is no problem Kouvelas-Edick won’t try to solve.
And everybody who has come to know her has come to know that.
“I want to make sure they know they have ’a person’ if and when they’re ready to get off the streets. So, until they’re ready, I will be there; I will feed them, I will clothe them, I will give them hugs, and make sure they know they’re loved. When they’re ready, it’s magical, and that’s when we jump into gear,” she says.
Throughout the night, you’ll hear most people lovingly call Kouvelas-Edick “mom” as she hustles from each person with energy and excitement, welcoming vendors and guests with hugs and selfies all around. It’s quite the production. But Kouvelas-Edick’s mentality, since she started her foundation in 2016, is that “it just takes one person.” And for these folks, that one person is her.
“They’re like my kids. I’ve known these people now for years, and I love them,” Kouvelas-Edick explains. “I have photos of them all, and when they get clean and sober and off the streets, I have their before and after pictures. And when I really have a hard day, I look back at that, and I think, ‘Okay, it’s worth it.’”
“This is part of our community. And that’s what we do.”
"Until they’re ready, I will be there."