One day last week, on an afternoon threatening rain, but refusing to cool off, I rode around with Chris Moon and some volunteers for the Compassionate Planet Initiative—a community service initiative I discovered through a local Facebook group—as we wound our way around beneath the I-10 underpass, handing out care packs to the houseless residents of tent city. I’m always grateful to have the opportunity to give back to a community that has given me so much, and was excited to have the chance to speak with a young man that has dedicated so much of his time and energy to making the world a brighter place.
By day, Chris is a mild-mannered service technician and father to a ten-year-old. When he’s not handling the responsibilities of fatherhood and full-time work, Chris is dedicating his time to various causes in the community. You can catch him monthly in Jackson Square doing his volunteer work with Anonymous for the Voiceless (AV)—an animal rights organization that specializes in educating the public on animal exploitation and fostering highly effective activist communities worldwide. Moon helps lead a Cube of Truth where he and other volunteers bring footage of standard animal agriculture practices to the public and discuss how food choices are connected to the suffering of animals, people, and our planet.
He is also the founder of American Vegan, a fledgling business enterprise that he explained to me, along with the full details of the Compassionate Planet Initiative, over tofu (they were out of tempeh) teriyaki pizza, following our distributing some 200 care packs. These care packs include things like socks, environmentally friendly toothbrushes, toothpaste, wet wipes, and drinking water. During the discussion over pizza, Chris and the other volunteers brainstormed ways to increase their efforts by sourcing donations, lowering their costs and seeking to include some food in the packs. The care packs currently run upwards of $5 ea., before any food is added—a cost that, thus far, has by and large come directly out of the pockets of Moon and his fellow volunteers.
Can you tell me a little bit about the Compassionate Planet Initiative?
Moon: The Compassionate Planet Initiative is a community service event where we get volunteers together and bring care packs to the local New Orleans homeless community around tent city.
Why did you start doing this?
Moon: We always see homeless people on the streets and their tents on the sidewalks, trying to get money and just trying to survive. We always say I wish I could help, I wish I could do something. We came to the point where we had some resources, and we had the financial ability to do a little bit, so the Compassionate Planet Initiative came out of that the constant desire to help.
What’s next for the project?
Moon: I’d like to scale it up. We have a fundraiser set up for it and I’d love to partner with some locals who have some resources that could help out as well. So far we’ve been able to get out about 200 care packs per month. But we always notice that there are hundreds and hundreds of people we are not able to help. Our initial goal was to bring close to 400 to 500, which is about how many people they have out in that area at any given time. We’ve only been able to hit about half that goal; we would love to be able to hit that goal and start putting more stuff in the care packs.
What’s the best way for others to get involved?
Moon: There are a few ways that they can get involved. As I mentioned, there is a fundraiser. You can look up Compassionate Planet Initiative on Facebook, It’ll show up as a fundraiser and an event page. You can go on there and click interested on the event page, if you’re interested in volunteering, in coming out to help pass the packs out. Or you can go to the fundraiser and donate anything you’re able to, which helps purchase the products: the toothbrushes, the toothpaste, the waters, the bags, socks and things like that.
You’re working on another project called American Vegan can you tell me a little bit about that?
Moon: American Vegan is actually the big project, of which the Compassionate Planet Initiative is just a part. We are a local group of animal rights activists, we are always out organizing and attending activism events, we are helping the homeless community and cleaning up our city. I wanted to be able to find a way to afford to do these things, to eventually make a living doing really good things for people and the planet.
There is an online store that we are hoping to launch by January, people can go on there and purchase activism related products. And there’s also the community service side of things, which entails the Compassionate Planet Initiative—there’s also another two initiatives we’re working on right now: one of them is called the Clean Earth Initiative where we will get volunteers together and hit the streets and clean the trash off the streets of the neighborhoods of New Orleans. We’ve also partnered with somebody who is going to be able to take the stuff that we collect and reuse and recycle it all, so it’s not ending up in a landfill. There’s also the Culinary Co-op Initiative. We are working on opening up a community commissary kitchen for local vegan pop-ups, food trucks, and startups. As part of this initiative, we would also take a food truck out once a month and provide hot meals for the homeless.
That’s amazing. Anything else you’d like to add?
Moon: Yeah, anybody can do this. I’m not some superhero out here doing this. We’re a community, we’re just a bunch of passionate people, and there’s always room for more of us. If you want to help but you don’t know where to start, you can reach out to American Vegan on Facebook, or any of the event pages, and just ask how you can be involved. We always need volunteers, we could always use donations. If you have resources or ideas that could help us grow, and help us do bigger and better things in the future— it’s a community effort, so please reach out.
I pray that I’m never in the position faced by the people who I met the other day. And it is my sincere hope that we will find a ready and quick solution to the challenges of homelessness, joblessness, addiction and mental illness that affect so many of the individuals that we were able to meet and assist. But I rest assured that if I ever did find myself in such a place there are people out there like Chris Moon and his friends, being the change they want to see in the world, people who give their time and energy to total strangers and expect nothing in return. There are people who do more than just see the problems we face, there are people who would see me, who would care about me and would come to my aid for no reason other than that I am their fellow human.
One of the gentlemen that I had the blessing of passing a care package out to was Reggie, a one-legged self-styled poet who was all too glad for that socks that he quipped would go twice as far. He stopped me and asked if he could return my kindness with one of his own, which he proceeded to do, reciting for me a carefully crafted and well-practiced poem. I bent down closer to where he sat so I could hear him fully. “What is real?“ he began before firing off a barrage of expertly executed, exactly timed, skillfully soliloquized verses that would put most of today’s hip hop artists—and a few poet laureates—to shame, rhyming and riffing on one of my favorite subjects, escaping the matrix. Whatever else might have happened, that one experience, this single, simple moment of human connection made it all worth it to me. There are great poets living beneath the underpasses of America, legendary voices with important that most of us may never come to hear. Reggie is certainly one of them.
In final examination, it’s not the thought that counts, but the deed. It is not enough to see somebody in need and think I wish I could help. You can help. And it doesn’t take much, just a little of your time or a few dollars.
Most of the time it’s not that we don’t want to help, because we do. Deep down, most people are really wonderful and beautiful and caring. Deep down, we all want to reach out to those whose need is great, because we remember when our own need was great.
Most of the time it’s that we simply don’t know what to do, we allow our uncertainty to mire us in inaction. I know this, because I have been one of those who would love to do something, but wasn’t sure how I could help—Sometimes all you need is a good example.
It is said that the world is full of good people if you can’t find one, be one. To that I would like to add that the world is full of good examples, find one and follow it; and if you don’t see one, then create it. As Chris said, no capes required.
You don’t have to be a superhero to lend a hand, but if you lend a hand, you just might find out that you’re a superhero.