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One Meal Makes A Difference — Bridge Under The Bridge Continues To Support The Cedar Rapids Community

Matthew Alvarez
Bridget Williams Robinson and Jovountae Robinson started the nonprofit Bridge Under the Bridge after the 2020 derecho.

It's been a year since the derecho of 2020 blasted across the state, in the middle of a pandemic, leaving terrible destruction in its wake, especially in the Cedar Rapids area. Homes and cars were damaged. The power was out for weeks in places. A lot of people couldn't go to work, and a lot of people were hungry.

Bridget Williams Robinson and her husband, Jovountae Robinson, know what it's like to be hungry. They've experienced hunger and homelessness. Following the storm, their first impulse was to share what they had with their neighbors. That impulse grew into a nonprofit organization called Bridge Under the Bridge. They serve meals under a highway bridge in Cedar Rapids. It's close to their house, so their eight kids can stop by to lend a hand or play nearby. News of their good deeds in the weeks and months following the derecho spread, and "Good Morning America" gifted them a food trailer so they could continue feeding people through the cold winter months.

Now, once again, dealing with the heat of the summer, every day, the Robinsons park in the shade of the noisy overpass, fire up the generator and cook up some delicious food for anyone who needs it, no questions asked.

Matthew Alvarez
"I've been homeless, I've been hungry. And I know it's not a good feeling. But a hot meal, a cold drink might be all the difference in somebody's day," said Jovountae Robinson, co-founder of Bridge Under the Bridge

Bridget: "There was days that we woke up, and we were in the same situation, and we didn't have someone or some place to go to to get meals for our family. And, just to know that there are so many moms and so many families and so many kids that go without every day. And I know how that feels. And I don't want them to have to suffer, and I don't want them to have to go without when we can do it. It might be long days. It might mean challenges. It might be some days where we just can't get out because we have our own families and our own lives. But I feel like the people deserve to be treated not like lower class citizens."

Jovountae: "If you've never been hungry? Try to go two days without eating. If you've never been homeless, spend a day or two in the park. Then you will understand why we do this is. There's nothing in it for us but to know that we helping make somebody else's life or day better, even for that moment. People always say 'why?' and I always say, 'why not?' Just put yourself in somebody else's shoes for a day, maybe two, and you're going to see why it's more normal to help than not. I've been homeless, I've been hungry. And I know it's not a good feeling. But a hot meal, a cold drink might be all the difference in somebody's day. So that's my message to anyone who's wondering why are we still doing this a year later? There's a constant need that I've needed before and now that we're able to help, I don't see why not. That's my that's my why."

Bridget: "So things kind of slowed down when a lot of that stimulus money came out, and there was a lot of boosting of the economy. People were getting a little bit more assistance from the government, so we saw a slow, like a decline in people, but there were still people that would show up. So we would go from, you know, maybe 200 to 50. Which 50 is still a lot of people that don't have a meal. So we just kind of continue to stick it out, knowing that there's still people out here that are in need. Even if it's just the homeless community and a few elderly people that come that just can't cook for themselves or they're kind of living paycheck to paycheck because those Social Security checks are not super — they're not enough to supplement. But now we've seen a spike in people. We're seeing 150 to 200 people a day again. It's a lot. You see every shade and every color of people. We see families, we see homeless, we see single moms, we see single people, we see elderly people.

Matthew Alvarez
"We're seeing 150 to 200 people a day again. It's a lot. You see every shade and every color of people. We see families, we see homeless, we see single moms, we see single people, we see elderly people," said Bridget Williams Robinson, co-founder of Bridge Under the Bridge.

We have a group of veterans that come down. We have everybody, and we see everybody, because we don't ask any questions, and we don't want to judge you for needing to ask for help. because I've been — here in Cedar Rapids — in food pantries. And I didn't have the Social Security numbers for everyone in my household. I didn't have birth certificates, I didn't have documents, and I didn't have like that income report sheets that you need to qualify to get a food box for my kids. So I left without one because I didn't have the things that they wanted me to have to get help. And you shouldn't have to qualify to be in need. You shouldn't have to ask a thousand questions just to get a box of food to take home to feed your family. We need to be able to help each other. And there's so much food in the world that goes to the garbage every day, the American people waste so much food, it's not even a joke. Like there's so much food that goes to the waste, the landfills. That food could go to these people. You shouldn't have to — you shouldn't have to subject yourself to asking all these questions just to be able to get help. There are a lot better ways."

Deanne: "Deanne from Cedar Rapids, northwest side, the 8-year-old Joasia and the 4-year-old Jayla. Relieved, happy, they could eat just we had no electricity for like three weeks. They could get a hot meal here. It just took it took relief of worrying how I was going to feed the children, you know, some days. It's very, very, very stressful."

Bridget: "And especially on like food box days, to be able to come and get, you know, your kid's favorite cereal and, you know, you couldn't afford it in the grocery store or to be able to get a nice cut of meat to take home and cook that night. That's a big deal. It's a burden that's lifted off of these people because there's nothing else like this. I don't know how the city can help. I wish that was something that I did know. But I know that there's a lot of people that are homeless that need help. I know there are a lot of buildings in the city that can be used for space, for housing. And I know that there's a lot of unused resources that should definitely be used and it shouldn't take average people like us that were barely getting by, to step up and fill a gap. But there are a lot of working people, there are a lot of businesses, there are a lot of elected officials that should have seen the problem and tried to fix it before us."

Jovountae: "My feet hurt. But it's like — again, it's like one of those feelings that you can't really describe it, when you know, you know. You know you're doing the right thing, so, you know, it's something that needs to continue. I mean, the people that we've touched, the lives that we've changed — from the stories that I've heard, I mean, some days all it takes is that warm meal to get a person to the next day to help better themselves."

Matthew Alvarez
Bridge Under The Bridge continues to grow. The Robinsons have started a community garden to provide fresh produce to people.

Bridget: "One meal makes a difference. Everything helps, even if it's just time, even if it's just a share, to share the information with someone else that may not know, that we are here and we're available. Just to make people aware, the awareness. I just want people to know that it is a lot, and it is challenging, and it is hard. The weather can get to you. We've had really, really cold days before. We've had really, really hot days. But we are going to be committed to this, we're going to stick it out, as long as people are backing us and as long as the community supports us, and as long as we have funding to keep going, we're going to keep going."

Jovountae: "It gets better every day. The days get longer and nights get shorter. Well, it's been fun."

Matthew Alvarez, IPR: "You, you have this gigantic smile on your face, I mean. You just like this, right?"

Jovountae: "I do, I do. I wouldn't trade it for nothing. That's the honest to God truth. It's been so fun. We met so many good people. The experience has just been like one of a lifetime, I mean. We were on "Good Morning America!" I mean, I've always wanted to be on. I've watched "Good Morning America" almost since I knew what "Good Morning America" was, and we were on "Good Morning America." It was awesome."

Bridge Under The Bridge continues to grow. The Robinsons have started a community garden to provide fresh produce to people. And, in addition to that food trailer from "Good Morning America," they now have a building they can store donations, and you can find out more about their work on their website.