Atlanta volunteer group Raddish cooks up vegan meals for homeless LGBT youth

When Lost-n-Found Youth hit a tumultuous spot last year, it needed food donations — fast. So an email was sent to its volunteers, asking for help.

“Since half their board left them, to pick up the slack they were asking for people to bring lunches and occasionally dinner to the clients there,” said Tyler Tolleson, founder and coordinator of Raddish.

Tolleson and two friends, two of whom are vegan, which means they do not eat any meat, dairy or other animal products, started dropping off meals once a week. But when the vegan community in Atlanta found out what they were doing, everyone wanted to help: and Raddish was born.

“For a lot of homeless people, meat is very common as an option for people to give them things, and there’s not much choice in the matter. If you’re vegetarian or lactose-intolerant or whatever reason, it’s actually very hard to manage that. Sometimes you have to choose between being sick or eating,” Tolleson said. “At the same time, the nutritional element has been very important to us. … Nutrient denseness is not a priority for those that are giving homeless people food. A lot of people would be like, ‘Oh, I’ll buy you a sandwich at McDonald’s.’”

She said though there’s still kindness and compassion in that act, there’s not a lot of nutritional value in a fast-food meal.

“Having healthy meals at least once a week should help curb things like diabetes and heart problems and issues that would come up for people who were only able to subsist off fast-food,” Tolleson said.

The group cooks every Wednesday and spends the rest of the week planning menus, budgeting, shopping and bringing in donated fresh food. The interest is so great that there’s already an outside-the-perimeter branch opening up later this year, and Raddish also began providing meals for The Living Room shelter downtown. Between the two programs, Tolleson said there’s usually between 50 and 60 people receiving vegan meals from Raddish.

Rebecca Dickerson, Raddish co-founder, who grew up with family members in the culinary industry, is one of the volunteers in charge of recipe creation.

“Typically I will try to do a protein main dish and sides. We don’t do a dessert,” she said. “We’ll do like, black bean burgers or something that isn’t necessarily a hunk of protein, but to the kids it might seem that way. … On the side I try to make sure we have a roasted vegetable side or fruit or some kind of whole food.”

Tolleson said it’s easy to make unhealthy vegan meals — “carbs on top of carbs” — so they’re careful to include a balance of starches, fruits, vegetables and meat and dairy substitutes.

“The goal is just to provide this food for the people who are most in need, and raise awareness to the people in our community that there are a lot of young people still … who are extremely affected by homophobia, even by their own families,” Dickerson said.

Some of the favorite meals Raddish makes are faux sushi bowls, made with tomatoes instead of tuna; build-your-own taco bars; and any kind of Italian-style food. Those that weren’t as popular were vegan lasagna and gazpacho.

There’s plenty of room for volunteers on the cooking nights. Dickerson said the coordinators post each week’s location in the Raddish Facebook group, and volunteers can come as they are and will be assigned a task.