Laura and James Ritchie started their journey to give back in their hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina. Their jumping-off point came from a day of bringing snacks and water to the homeless with a friend from their church. Come 2018, when in Austin, the Ritchies were inspired to shift gears from bringing those in need McDonald’s biscuits, to cooking hot, nourishing meals.
“We shared our idea with our friend and founding member, Debbie Booher, who had been bringing food to the homeless for over 20 years. She and I would collaborate to come up with menus and prepare the food. We would box up between 50 to 100 meals,” says Laura. “Deb and I would be in one car with the food, and James would be in another with hygiene supplies, drinks, and clothing.”
But one interaction with their homeless friend, Will, made them realize that so much more was needed. Like so many others, Will didn’t have a place to shower or wash his clothes—such seemingly basic things that are essential to our physical and mental health. The Ritchies set out to offer these services around the city through their fleet of Lighter Loads ATX trailers.
“The opportunity to start their day with a shower and clean clothes provides hope and allows them to live with their heads held high,” says Laura. “They felt loved and we felt like we were extending the love and concern we felt inside of us to them.”
Lighter Loads ATX has grown into the ultimate organization for providing a sense of dignity and community to those experiencing homelessness. They have achieved this through their block parties. The goals of these parties include being a one-stop shop for as many goods and services as possible and offering a space for fun.
“Hands-down, my favorite moments are when I see a guest dancing,” says Laura. “From the beginning, I told my husband, if I see someone dancing then I will know that person’s load has truly been lightened. It’s a precious moment. When we make someone’s day better, we make someone’s life better.”
To partner or volunteer with Lighter Loads ATX and support 3,000 people in need, visit lighterloadsatx.org.