From Community Kitchen Diner to Volunteer

At Caritas of Austin, we know our volunteers are indispensable in our work to end homelessness. Because of their time, passion and skills, our fellow Austinites have a safe place to call home and the support they need to succeed.

In 2022 alone, 742 volunteers spent 11,115 hours preparing and serving nutritious lunches in our Community Kitchen, working directly with clients to help achieve employment or educational goals, and much more.

We are grateful for our volunteers every day, but we are particularly honored to celebrate them during Volunteer Appreciation Week on April 16-22.

Fred Daniels is one of our many volunteers who partners with us in this work to restore well-being, and his story behind volunteering is as inspiring as it is unique.

“I was homeless at one time,” Fred said. “I went through the Community Kitchen myself.”

There are many circumstances that can cause someone to experience homelessness. For Fred, it was an unexpected family death. When his grandmother passed away in 2004, Fred lost a safe place to call home and began living on the streets of Austin.

He reflects on his experience with homelessness as dehumanizing.

“I was lying on my back, and people would cross the street to avoid walking near me,” he said. “I felt invisible and like I didn’t matter.”

Once he was connected with a safe place to call home in 2015, he was determined to make sure that no one felt the way he did, to give back to the community and encourage those experiencing homelessness with his actions and his story.

“The Community Kitchen helped me and, by the grace of God, I’m no longer hungry,” he said. “I have a place to live, and I decided to work here with my free time. Nobody wants to be homeless. That’s just outward circumstances. If we give them some help, they can overcome that. I did.”

One of the most rewarding aspects of working to end homelessness and working with volunteers is helping someone rebuild well-being in their lives, Chef Joe Green said, and he’s been honored to witness that well-being in Fred’s life.

“One of the best feelings you get when working with volunteers in the kitchen is seeing guests getting back on their feet and then returning to Caritas as a volunteer; someone like Fred Daniels,” Joe said. “That’s a level of success that can’t happen without the kindness and compassion of volunteers.”

Fred volunteers in the Community Kitchen at least once a month (oftentimes more), preparing and serving meals with a smile and encouraging word. Since January 2023, Fred decided to become even more involved by becoming a Direct Services Volunteer.

Direct Services Volunteers work one-on-one with clients to help rebuild well-being and reach life goals. As a Direct Services Volunteer, Fred delivers groceries from our Pantry to clients, supports clients by joining them in meetings with landlords, and advocates to local government for more affordable housing.

“We are social creatures,” Fred said. “When people say something positive to you or for you, it changes your outlook on things. That’s why volunteers are so important.”

When asked about his favorite part of volunteering, Fred said it is helping someone transition out of homelessness.

“Helping someone who is experiencing homelessness move into a house brings me so much joy,” he said. “I know exactly how it feels to have a safe place, how grateful I was and the people who took me to my new home and brought me cleaning supplies. You never forget signing that lease and holding that key. It’s so special to be a part of that for someone else.”

Thanks to the dedication and passion of volunteers like Fred, we are able to provide another layer of support in our work to end homelessness in the city we all live in and love.