updated 01/15/2014 AT 10:00 AM ET
•originally published 01/15/2014 AT 2:00 PM ET
While most teens are impossible to rouse at the crack of dawn, the Burrito Boyz of San Diego, Calif., are out of their homes by 6:30 a.m. every Sunday.
Their mission: Making breakfast burritos for the city’s homeless, something they’ve done for 167 consecutive Sundays since November of 2010.
Comprised of a core team of seven high school boys and a small army of volunteers, they’ve given away more than 51,000 burritos and counting.
“We show the homeless community that we’re not giving up on them, so they shouldn’t give up on themselves,” explains Alec Johnson, 15, who started the Burrito Boyz nonprofit with his father, Michael, 49, and best friend Luke Trolinger, 16.
The Burrito Boyz (which includes classmates Nick Peeleman, 16; Joe Skvarna, 15; Cole Smith, 16; Justin McDonald, 16; and Julian Wahl, 16), along with the Burrito Babes (Girl Scout Troop 5273) have expanded their mission over the years.
They now also provide books, clothing, rain tarps, toiletries and have been known to host occasional spaghetti dinners for the homeless as well.
“It’s heartwarming to know that someone cares,” says Eddie, 60, a former construction worker who is now homeless and did not want his last name used.
“They treat us like human beings,” he says. “They’re not just a charity, they’re our friends.”
Says San Diego City Councilman Scott Sherman, who explains the homeless population, many of whom are veterans, has spiked dramatically since 2008: “These boys aren’t just giving handouts, but a hand-up by showing them that everyday people care.”
The nonprofit began after Alec, then 12, presented his Christmas wish list to his parents in 2010: an iPhone, MacBook Air and other pricey items.
“I thought, ‘Holy cow. My son’s growing up quick, asking for such mature items,’ ” explains Michael, a former sports marketer.
“My wife, Mehrnaz, and I instead decided to teach him what’s important in life,” he says.
The very next weekend, they handmade 54 breakfast burritos in the family kitchen – paid out of their own pocket – and greeted the less fortunate on the downtown streets with the hot meal, bottle of water and a touch of dignity.
“It felt like punishment at first when my dad told me the idea,” Alec says with a laugh.
“But to see human beings sleeping on the cold ground outside, it really touched me,” he says. “To realize how much they don’t have, and how much we do. It’s a huge part of my life now.”
“We learned to see the person beneath the grit and the grime,” he says. “They’re just ordinary people down on their luck.”
Cordaryl Johnson, 26, is one of those people.
“This is God working in mysterious ways,” says Johnson, an unemployed construction worker who has been living out of two cars with his wife and five children for the past several weeks.
“Once we get on our feet,” he says, “I’ll be right back here helping to volunteer.”
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