In the quest for expanded outreach services for drug users and individuals afflicted by homelessness in Lansing, the Punks with Lunch emerged six years ago as a dynamic harm reduction street organization that aims 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 fosters a spirit of community involvement, inviting volunteers to contribute to a transformative journey for thousands of people within the community, 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 and nurture the Lansing community through Punks with Lunch and organized to co-found the Lansing chapter.
Starting with small organized resource distribution events in Reutter Park, the organization has steadily expanded its footprint over the course of six impactful 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, according to Miller.
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 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.”
As part of their organization, the Harm Reduction Hub is a unique component of the organization designed to prevent and reduce drug usage risks.
Operating on weekdays and established through enduring connections with health organizations across the state, the Hub, recognized as a syringe service program in Ingham County, provides 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, changing how things werewhen Punks with Lunch was first founded.
“Due to the fact that it was, at the time, very illegal for us to openly distribute needles without putting risk upon ourselves and others, we were very underground regarding how many harm reduction supplies we distributed,” Miller said.
Miller is currently the director of the Harm Reduction office at Punks with Lunch and emphasized how important it is to their organization. Miller said that while their 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 operates a mobile unit, reaching 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.
Volunteer opportunities never run dry at Punks with Lunch. 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 their community, Miller said.
Coming up on the sixth year anniversary, Punks with Lunch continues to put community needs first, according to Miller.
The groups continues to expand their organization and their reach in the Greater Lansing area to work for collective action against community harm in Lansing.
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