What started as a one-time project has turned into a way of life for Nathan Unrau.
Nathan’s Lunches With Love initiative, a free bag-lunch program for Winnipeg’s homeless population, received a nice boost Thursday morning when Coca-Cola Refreshments Canada surprised the teenager with a cheque for $2,000.
"What this means is that we get to make more lunches," offered a wide-eyed Nathan, who thought he was just taking a guided tour of the bottling plant. "I’m living proof that anyone can make a difference, no matter what your age."
Lunches With Love is a not-for-profit program that makes bag lunches for people who rely on homeless shelters. Nathan, a high-functioning autistic 13-year-old from Charleswood, came up with the program in 2012, when he wanted to do something that would make a positive difference for those who count on shelters in this city for food.
With the help of his parents, Rohan and Elsie, the program started with 47 lunches that were dropped off at the Main Street Project in October 2012. After witnessing the tough conditions and the strength of the human spirit at the shelter, the Westdale School student decided he wanted to make the program part of his regular routine and Lunches With Love expanded from there.
Coming up on two years of existence, the initiative has assembled and delivered more than 16,000 lunches.
"When we first went down there, we could see the look on the homeless people’s faces and that just told us, ‘Man, we need to do more,’ " Nathan said. "The reason why I’m doing this instead of playing Xbox at home is that I feel a need (to help) the homeless."
These days, Lunches With Love delivers 850 lunches (consisting of a tuna/egg salad sandwich, a piece of fruit, a baked good and a bottle of water) once a month to shelters around Winnipeg. The program has between 20 to 30 volunteers and has plans to expand to approximately 1,600 lunches later this year.
"We’re starting up a second shift in October because we have too many volunteers, we can’t accommodate them all," said Elsie Unrau, who helps Nathan oversee the operation.
"The response to this program has been incredible. Honestly, we haven’t had to purchase an item in two years. Winnipeg has just been so generous with donations, whether it’s food, money or their time."
Nathan said the $2,000 cheque from Coca-Cola should help prepare approximately 1,500 lunches for Winnipeg’s homeless community.
"There’s a lot more we can do," he added.
"There’s no limit to how big this program can get."