UMI FEEDS Feeding Atlanta’s Hungry
By Noah Chen
As a child, Erica Clahar helped her Aunt Ummi distribute soup and sandwiches to those in need on the streets of New York City. Years later, inspired by her aunt, Clahar founded Umi Feeds, a young Atlanta nonprofit that has distributed thousands of meals to the city’s economically disadvantaged. The company also enriches the lives of its volunteers.
“I was volunteering at an event when I saw that food was just getting thrown away,” says Clahar, recalling the origins of Umi Feeds. “I asked if I could take it instead.”
Given the green light, she immediately put the food to good use. “I took the food from the event and served it to people in a park nearby. Some of them were homeless and some of them weren’t. That’s exactly when Umi Feeds began.”
As Clahar set out to feed those in need, she was not alone. “When your friends are passionate about things, you want to see it happen for them,” says Jamie Dean, a staff member at Umi Feeds.
Clahar approached Dean when the organization was just getting started, but Dean was unable to join at the time due to illness. Clahar visited Dean when she was sick, and upon returning to full health, Dean decided to join the organization.
“It made me feel better to come help her out,” Dean explains. “I just constantly came out there when she needed me. After that happened, our friendship blossomed too. We started learning a lot more about each other through the Umi Feeds effort.”
Omidayo Gayben, a mother of four and a customer of Umi Feeds, joined the effort after seeing its impact on her community. “When I think of Erica, some of the words that pop up for me are ‘selfless,’ ‘community,’ ‘gentle’ and ‘love,’ ” says Gayben. “That’s why it was so easy for me to volunteer. I became available to serve others with her.”
While Dean gained a close friend in Clahar and felt better about herself through service, Gayben says her prejudices were challenged. She felt “really scared” during her first day working with the organization.
“At first, I thought there was something wrong with these people,” she remembers. But she realized her feelings were not the healthiest.
“That was disturbing for me,” says Gayben, so she decided “to reckon with those feelings. I chose to keep coming back and to be a part of the conversation of humanity.
“After that first time, it was a completely different experience for me. I was coming in, giving hugs, saying, ‘What’s up?’—all of that.”
“You learn to see people differently,” says Clahar. “You just learn to see people as people.”
While Umi is still a small organization with only three other staff members, Clahar is grateful for the consistent stream of volunteers who help feed people at multiple locations around the greater Atlanta area.
Depending on donations, meals are usually offered monthly but sometimes weekly. Despite having an unpredictable schedule, Clahar says, there’s always enough help: “Every month I’m always filled. I’m asking for 10 volunteers or so, and I’m getting 10 volunteers. I always have exactly what I need when I do these dinners.
“We all can help. You don’t have to be a restaurant; you don’t have to be a grocery store. Everyone can help. If you have food that didn’t get eaten, you can donate that too.”
Umi Feeds accepts food and financial donations. For information about donating or volunteering, contact Erica Clahar at 678-718-5864 or [email protected].