In the quest to expanded outreach services for drug users and individuals afflicted by homelessness in Lansing, Punks with Lunch Lansing emerged six years ago as a dynamic harm reduction street organization aiming to provide food, housing assistance, HIV testing, recovery options, seasonal clothing and attire and personal care items for individuals in need.
Beyond the tangible offerings of food and supplies, the organization promotes community involvement, inviting volunteers to contribute to a transformative journey for thousands of people within the community, Punks with Lunch Lansing co-founder Julia Miller said.
“We offer people autonomy, support, respect and love,” Miller said. “We strive to decrease stigma against a marginalized community and offer hope to people.”
Punks with Lunch is a long-standing nonprofit organization originally founded in West Oakland, California. In November of 2017, Julia Miller saw an opportunity to help nurture the Lansing community and co-founded Punks with Lunch Lansing.
Starting with small organized resource distribution events in Reutter Park, the organization has steadily expanded its footprint over the course of six years.
Punks with Lunch stands as a beacon of compassion and empowerment, going beyond political and religious boundaries to uplift the unhoused and those battling drug addiction, Miller said.
Miller said a noteworthy aspect is the organization's deliberate choice to remain unaffiliated with any political or religious groups — a distinctive trait applauded by both volunteers and beneficiaries, she said. This organization's neutrality creates an inclusive space where individuals from diverse backgrounds find common ground.
“We actually are very political,” Miller said. “Food is political, housing is political, harm reduction is political. We just don’t like the politics surrounding it.”
A unique component of Punks with Lunch Lansing is the Harm Reduction Hub: designed to prevent and reduce drug usage risks.
Operating on weekdays and established through connections with health organizations across the state, the Harm Reduction Hub is a syringe service program in Ingham County, providing resources such as Narcan and anti-overdose agent training, needle exchange, safer use kits and recovery resources.
Harm reduction emerges as a newer alternative to combat drug overdoses and mishandling, focusing on improving overall well-being and changing how things werewhen Punks with Lunch Lansing was first founded.
“It was, at the time, very illegal for us to openly distribute needles without putting risk upon ourselves and others," Miller said. "We were very underground regarding how many harm reduction supplies we distributed."
Miller is currently also the director of the Harm Reduction Hub and emphasized how important it is to Punks with Lunch Lansing. Miller said that while the harm reduction program has experienced backlash and withdrawn support from the community, it is a tool that helps keep people alive in bigger cities.
Beyond static distribution events, Punks with Lunch Lansing operates a mobile unit that reaches various locations in the Greater Lansing area four days a week. Volunteer efforts extend beyond scheduled events, with dedicated individuals hitting the streets nearly every day to provide essentials such as hand warmers, weather-appropriate gear and nourishing food.
From making sandwiches, harm reduction kits and hygiene kits to shadowing at the office, there is an opportunity for every individual to get involved and help create a lasting impact on the community, Miller said.
Coming up on the sixth year anniversary, Punks with Lunch Lansing continues to put the community's needs first: expanding the organization and their reach in the Greater Lansing area to work for collective action against community harm in Lansing.
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