By Shine Salt
UNITY Student Reporter
Driving through Phoenix streets in his food truck, Michael sees what goes on every day. It first started on Christmas Eve about two years ago when he noticed a lot of homeless people walking and laying on the streets on this special day.
“It scared me. It just shook me,” said Michael Reyes. “That evening I was out looking for more food because I didn’t think I had enough. I went and bought more food and we fed over 500 people that Christmas morning and we haven’t stopped since.”
Reyes is the owner of Paz Cantina, a brightly colored food truck where he makes and sells Mexican food, including, burritos, quesadillas, and tacos with arroz y frijoles (rice and beans). The truck is fully decorated. On each side of the truck the word PAZ, which means peace, is written in bright orange. One side, accompanying the name, is a skeletal hand painted (a-la Dia de Los Muertos) with two fingers held up as a sign of peace. On the other side is a skeletal Pancho Villa-like caricature. The rear of the truck has a painted UFO over a Sonoran Desert beaming up a taco, with words written on the bottom that says, ‘we come in Paz.’
On every ‘Taco’ Tuesday, as he calls it, Reyes and his cooks spend the day feeding hundreds of homeless people in the downtown Phoenix area. He says they are mothers and fathers, veterans, and even former lawyers and engineers. Reyes says many of them didn’t become homeless because of drugs and alcohol, but because of life. And he says he has learned that it could happen to anyone.
“It’s tough, but regardless of that there’s always things that are tougher for other people. The gift I have and the ability I have is to feed people so I don’t feel I have any right to take from the streets or have any expectations from the streets,” said Reyes.
When Reyes spends his Tuesdays feeding people, he takes the time to listen to their stories. He says he can relate because he was raised in the kitchen with immigrants. His mother and grandmother taught him how to cook since he was 11 years-old. And feeding those in need, he says, gives him purpose.
“I can’t walk away from seeing a need. I’m not somebody who asks permission. If somebody needs water, why would you ask permission to help him or her? Why wouldn’t you just do it? It’s the right thing to do,” says Reyes.
However, there are time when Reyes’ help is challenged. He says when he drives to 12th Avenue and Madison to feed the homeless in that area, he’ll encounter police officers suggesting he stop feeding them—and even informing him he’ll be arrested because of city policies.
“The police go out of their way to mess with poor people. They have nowhere else to go so why would you mess with them?” says Reyes with a frown on his face. “Why is it a crime to be poor? Why is it a crime to be homeless? Why is it a crime to have no food? What’s going on?”
Reyes says he’s trying to bring peace to Phoenix communities. His mother and grandmother taught him that if you can help others, then you can help yourself.
“The burrito or taco didn’t make a difference. The fact that somebody cares, told him or her not to stop trying. They kept on because somebody cared enough. That’s what will get them to that other place and I’m trying to do that too. I’m trying to keep it going and they remind me all the time of who I am and where I came from,” said Reyes.
Reyes opened a brick and mortar Paz Cantina in the downtown Phoenix area on Nov. 7, 2014. He closed the place a year later and decided to continue the business out of a truck. The food truck owner has gained support of other blue-collar family-owned businesses, community organizations and even community leaders. He says the homeless are not just there to take a handout, they want to make it too, but personal challenges prevent them from being self-sufficient.
“It’s a blessing. It keeps me humble and it keeps me connected,” says Reyes.
Paz Cantina joined the UNITY Regional Media Summit Town Hall meeting on immigration on April 29, 2016. The gathering was held at the Puente Arizona headquarters in Phoenix. A reception was held prior to the meeting thanks to the generous support and sponsorship of Michael Reyes and his Paz Cantina Food Truck.