One Woman’s Crusade to Combat Poverty One Bowl of Soup At a Time
In 2001 in the mountain community of Badger, California, Millie Mims helped people who came to the community needing food and lodging. With the help of local farmers markets, she would provide food to the local school and needy families. That same year, she founded a grassroots non-profit called the New Life Society, whose mission is to provide “food, shelter, nurturing, and employment for persons experiencing urban poverty.” For much of the ten years, most of their efforts focused on providing meals because, as she says, “Giving food is just because it was the only thing within in my budget. And I love to cook.”
In 2010, Millie relocated her hot meals to the Venice Beach boardwalk in California. For five days a week, Millie – sometimes alone, sometimes with one or two volunteers – would set up her spot to feed anyone in need of a hot meal. Beginning at 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon, she would serve complete organic, GMO-free, vegetarian meals consisting of soup, salad, rice, and bread until it was gone. It wouldn’t take long for them to be emptied out.
“It’s needed,” she said during our interview at a Santa Monica café in May. Dressed in a colorful, wrapped dress representative of the Eastern philosophy she practices, Millie relayed to me her story of how she came to follow what she sees as her calling to help the most vulnerable among us. “There’s a lot of hungry people there. Sometimes there are 30 or 40 people already lined up waiting for us.”
Today, they are there seven days a week. Every morning she begins gathering the items needed for distribution. She prepares an 8 gallon pot of homemade soup made with fresh ingredients donated from local farmers markets and organic grocery stores. She also prepares more than two gallons of salad and rice. With the help of a volunteer, all of it, including bread, is carried down the stairs from her apartment into a donated van. When she doesn’t have help, she makes several trips carrying smaller portions of the soup down to the 8-gallon pot waiting in the van.
Most days, Millie does the cooking herself, though she does get help one or two days a week from another volunteer.
On Saturdays they are out there beginning at 9:00 am. The Saturday meals include a breakfast of oatmeal and fruit in addition to the soup in the afternoon. About 85 percent of the people they feed are homeless…or as she calls them, unhoused. “I tell them, don’t say you’re homeless. If you’re in your mother’s lap, and mother earth is our mother, you’re never homeless. You’re at home. But you’re unhoused. It’s more respectful.”
I visited Millie one Saturday after our interview to see the operation in action. By the time I had arrived a little after 3:00 p.m., they only had a few servings of the afternoon meal left. The two ladies helping her each told their stories of how they had met Millie through random events. Those first encounters resulted in them immediately joining her in her crusade and have each been with her for several years. Several people stopped by the booth, including two young musicians who had just arrived from Austin, Texas. A couple of regulars showed up, including a man affectionately called the “Irish Eddie Murphy,” who shared how the New Life Society, and particularly Millie, had helped him through years of struggle which are ongoing. Sometimes this is his only meal of the day.
This communal spirit has always been part of who she is.
Originally from Massachusetts, Millie was selling books on the road at 14 and married at 20 years old. She and her husband were part of an ashram. They traveled all over the country and as far as Puerto Rico, finding other ashram communities the interracial couple would settle in with. During this time they had six children, eventually setting in the rural mountains in California. All the time she says they were just looking for their place in the world. This has helped her have a unique understanding of the people she helps.
“When you’re out there every day you see so many wonderful people.” She describes the people of all ages, disabled, and all walks of life. Many who started out as people helped by the meals are now volunteering to distribute. Other vendors on the boardwalk, often unable to leave their own booths, have benefitted from NLS’s generosity with a hand delivered meal. Many who stop by put a donation in the subtle donation box sitting on the table. Meals are served without question and always with love.
Now, Millie and NLS are finding they need to grow.
Being on a limited income herself, Millie has struggled to make the daily demands of feeding upwards of 100 people a day. The small financial donations, as well as the donation of food, keep them afloat and allow them to feed 3,000 meals a month for about 55 cents per day. However, the donated van is in need of repairs and sits in a donated space by another supporter.
Not to mention, Millie is currently facing eviction from her home.
Her landlord has accused her of running a business out of her apartment, where she lives alone. For unknown reasons, he claims that the act of preparing the meals that she transports to Venice Boardwalk daily is somehow in violation of her agreement. Millie says that the only people that come in and out of the apartment are the one or two volunteers that help carry the gallons of food down the stairs.
This is the second time in her life she has risked eviction from a home for helping. She was evicted from a previous home for allowing an unhoused couple with two babies under a year old to stay in her driveway in their RV.
As she deals with the eviction notice, Millie is scrambling to find a location to work out of that will allow them to prepare the meals to the needed health and safety requirements and remain on the boardwalk. This takes a lot of money that they don’t have. She admits that she needs to disentangle her community efforts from her personal life. “I worry. I worry a lot,” she admits.
Still, she is compelled to move forward. In addition to the meals, she still finds time to help find housing for those she can, and is pursuing her goal of building a sustainable farming community. “When you have a calling, you can’t just turn an ear when you’re unhappy inside.” She explains her situation like the mother of six now grown children would. “I urge people to understand, if you have children, think of these people as your children, as your brothers and sisters. We are all family.”
“We’re here for everyone.”
Let’s hope that there are many who will be there for Millie.
Photos by Crystal B. Shepeard