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I am the founder of MeetIRV.org, providing mobile showers, haircuts, 1,200 meals per day and soon the first mobile laundry service to the homeless. AMA!

May 11th 2017 by MeetIRV • 10 Questions • 183 Points

It all started with one bold idea...

Just days after Christmas 2015, disaster struck the St. Louis, Missouri region. Record flooding destroyed entire communities, shut down interstates, caused massive power outages and more. In Eureka, southwest of St. Louis, firefighters and their boats were in high demand, accounting for dozens of rescues of people in their homes, businesses or vehicles. Television news footage showed at least one home there drifting in the swollen river, when firefighters rescued by boat a man and a dog as floodwaters lapped at the eaves of the house roof on which they’d been trapped all night.

We knew there was something we could do to bring a measure of comfort to those facing the loss of their homes, so as the flood waters receded, we worked through the night making modifications to our family RV, a 25' travel trailer. It was about 15º and we could not allow the water lines to freeze, so we insulated and heated them. We loaded up with thousands of pounds of supplies hastily collected from family and friends. As the new year rang in across the country, we were arriving in Eureka at the National Guard Post set up there.

The people that made up this hard-working community could do nothing but watch as Bobcats and loaders carried away what was left of their homes and the Christmas they celebrated in it only days before. The water was contaminated with E. Coli, salmonella, and more forcing residents to wear hazmat suits and forego attempting to save most possessions.

For days we remained, serving thousands of meals to residents and first responders while providing a warming center, internet access, charging stations, a restroom facility and more. We knew we were on to something good!

When we returned we knew we could use this same unique outreach to serve the homeless and other at-risk communities, and MeetIRV.org was born. Less than a month later we acquired IRV, a highly modified Class A vehicle capable of doing so much more!

Now we are working harder than ever to increase awareness about what we do and get folks to share us on their social media. At the urging of many of our university volunteers, I am doing this AMA!

Visit us at MeetIRV.org or gofundme.com/IRV2017 for more about our story, photos, social media links and more.

Thanks for reading...AMA!

Jerry Powell Founder, MeetIRV.org

My Proof: https://www.meetirv.org/

Q:

Lovely. How does one get involved?

A:

My favorite question! Please visit us at www.MeetIRV.org and click on the 'Get Involved' link, where you can find a number of ways to join us. Many thanks for checking us out!


Q:

Have you spoken to the Orange Sky guys? They'd make for a great chat about this. http://www.orangeskylaundry.com.au

A:

I have not spoken with them but somebody turned me onto their site a short while back and what they're doing is absolutely awesome. I feel it's the right expansion in our services given we too respond to natural disasters, fires, and other events where it would be of huge service. The weight and water requirements of new HE machines makes it more plausible than ever before as well.


Q:

Thanks for your answer. It's only my second time asking anything in an AMA, so your guess is as good as mine. Thanks again, and thanks for everything you're doing.

A:

Thank you for checking us out. We genuinely appreciate it! :)


Q:

This is amazing! What is your 5-year plan?

A:

To be honest, somewhat dynamic at the moment as we have just turned to other methods of acquiring the funds to maximize our current potential. Right now our resources are capable of operating more than our funding allows. That being said, I am working aggressively to address that concern. It is difficult, however, to spend time on that administrative strife as opposed to doing the actual work for others.

Short answer: To acquire sufficient funding to operate to full capabilities; to increase our exposure to community groups, civic organizations, first responder groups and others who can benefit from our versatility; Lastly, to sponsor a program that allows others to spend time with us learning how we work with emergency responders, community groups, citizens, law enforcement and others so that they can replicate the same in their respective cities.


Q:

I love it. Good luck! And I look forward to seeing you in cities across the globe!

A:

Thanks, that's our goal!


Q:

Can you tell me more about the "community crisis repsonse" project? Are you currently working with local law enforcement officers, other service providers or DAs for this project? I know there are several organizations currently in the U.S. that does this type of work and was wondering how yours may be different from others.

A:

Hi there! Thanks for asking...we do approach things a bit differently. We are based in Chicago, and it is no secret that we have a problem with gun violence and a bigger problem with black and blue hate between some community factions and the police. Our goal is to give community members information, in real time, that can allow them to feel empowered without resorting to methods of unrest. We have a mobile print center on board, which allows us to respond to a scene of gang violence, police activity, or other social crisis and immediately distribute contact and social media information for their community officials and elected legislators. This allows people to engage immediately with those accountable to their community. We also have an external TV where we display this information. When people are presented with a way to feel immediately empowered, they devote their energies to the endeavor of exercising empowerment over violence, and we call that a win.


Q:

This is an incredibly inspirational! I'm always amazed when people truly get out there and personally make the world a better place.

From your experience, do you think most volunteer opportunities lack people or funds with which to act?

I recognize, of course, that both are critical and that in most cases it's good to get as much of both as possible. But I also wonder if it can help motivate people to do one or the other!

A:

Awe, thanks! We tell volunteers all the time that we may not be able to change the world today, but we can change the world for one person at a time.

This is AMA so I'll be brutally honest...the biggest obstacle to activism is social media. The reality is that we cannot continue if people do not know who we are and what we do, and in this day and age that means social media. Unfortunately, social media also gives you the option to "like" or "share" something, giving one the sense of satisfaction in that they served some function to help. Unfortunately, that immediate gratification is rarely followed by real-world action. Having funded much of this ourselves so far, the only fundraising we have done has been through family, friends, civic groups we belong to, things like that. This is the first time we have ever ventured into crowdfunding as we simply cannot fund our full operational potential. I hate, more than anything, the reality that money is critical to do good work. I always feel like pounding the pavement for funding detracts from the good of the works. It's simply a necessary evil.


Q:

Do you ever team up with a local laundromats?

I have long had the daydream of having a mobile shower unit that occasionally pairs with brick and mortar facilities, but suspect few places would want to shut down their operations for a day.

You said you acquired the IRV within weeks of starting - was this all done out of pocket or were you able to acquire outside funding that quickly?

A:

Hi there! I tried for some time, without success, to form a partnership with a laundromat or high-volume commercial facility. Unfortunately, they all expressed concerns about the level of soiling to the clothing, the fear of needles, contraband, or weapons in pockets, etc.

As for how we acquired IRV so quickly...we sat down as a family and discussed it, knowing exactly what we were biting off. I went to school near Elkhart, IN which is the RV manufacturing capital of the world. A buddy from school is with a large manufacturer and sold us a unit at cost, allowing us to finance 100% of the cost. We raised money from family and very close friends to pay for the modifications, insurance, outfitting costs and related items. Long story short, we took on immense debt.


Q:

That's really a bummer to hear. I wonder if a university or church would be willing to participate. I belong to a large, public university's gym and they have a whole bank of laundry machines. Though perhaps they wouldn't be excited about dozens or hundreds of homeless people milling around campus, even during summer break. A church might be more likely.

I hope you're eventually able to acquire enough funding to pay down that debt, and maybe even take a salary someday! If I had the money to be a philanthropist, you'd be exactly the type of organization I'd fund. I'll check back in twenty years and see how you're doing :P

A:

One other aspect of the issue is that these folks, for the most part, will not part with their clothes to be returned to them at some later time. The transient nature of their lives means they may not find themselves in the same place tomorrow, or even hours later. That is why I want to do what we do with other outreach services...bring the resources to them! The debt is not ideal, but I am confident that once we do more to get the word out about our mission people will find it worthy of their support. Definitely check back with us, but don't wait 20 years!!! Be well, much love.


Q:

Hey, I wasn't able to see where you're located out of, did I miss it? I have a suspicion that it's Chicago/Chicagoland?

A:

Hi there! My apologies for not being more clear. We are based in Chicago, though we travel throughout the midwest when appropriate. Thanks! :)