By Mrinal Gokhale
On the afternoon of October 25, Lloyd Flow Johnson and his schoolaged son pulled a wagon carrying about 100 lunch bags decorated with loving messages from Grand Avenue Mall, looping around the Third Ward and west on Wisconsin Ave.
A small volunteer team joined, handing out the lunches, water bottles, and pairs of socks to homeless individuals.
After first struggling to find enough takers in the relatively empty downtown streets that Sunday, it was at the Milwaukee Public Library on Wisconsin Ave. that the group found the most homeless people.
“I live in Chicago and have been passionate about our homeless community, so I decided to bring
#HashtagLunchbag to Milwaukee for the first time, where I’m originally from,” said Johnson.
#HashtagLunchbag is a nationwide volunteer movement aiming to help feed people living on the streets.
The initiative originated in Los Angeles in 2012, when a group of friends made meals for homeless people monthly, eventually starting a movement through social media when more people wanted to “get involved.”
They soon started a nonprofit, Living Through Giving Foundation.
Johnson said that he was visiting California where the movement originated, when he decided he wanted to get involved.
“People do #HashtagLunchbag in the U.S. and other countries such as Canada and Vietnam,” said Ebony Washington, one of the volunteers on Sunday.
Washington, who is originally from Kenosha, coordinates #HashtagLunchbag in Chicago. She was happy to join Johnson on their first out of state #HashtagLunchbag.
“I think it’s great how anyone can do this by providing food for anyone, regardless of where they live,” she said.
The day started at Ayzha’s Fine Arts Gallery in Grand Avenue Mall where Johnson displayed his candid black and white photography of homeless individuals in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and other places around the country.
About 20 people attended before the group packaged and decorated lunch bags together and got out on the streets to distribute.
“My mom is connected to the owner of Ayzha’s through a friend, and when she heard about my interest in helping homeless people through Hashtag, she said I can use this space,” he explained.
Johnson described himself as a self-employed event planner and photographer of his company, My Morning After.
“In Chicago, I coordinate one brunch and dinner per month for homeless people along with an art show, and I wanted to bring that to Milwaukee since I grew up here,” said Johnson. He used his high-end camera that day, photographing as many individuals as possible when they received their free lunch.
“I think that Milwaukee has more resources and nonprofits that help homeless people compared to Chicago,” he said.
“In Chicago, it’s so dense that people don’t care or they just look past the beggars and homeless individuals like they don’t exist,” he said.
The next day, Johnson traveled to New York to coordinate another #HashtagLunchbag event.
He hopes to come back to his hometown in Milwaukee one day to do it all again.