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Draper Journal

These two go the extra mile to clean up their community and help the homeless

Jan 05, 2024 09:04AM ● By Mimi Darley Dutton

Mike Snyder has been picking up trash in the area around Corner Canyon High School for seven years. He devotes 380 hours each year to this volunteer effort and he was pleasantly surprised to be recognized as one of the city’s Extra Mile winners. “Sometimes you wonder if you’re ever noticed,” Snyder said. (Mimi Darley Dutton/City Journals)

Jessica Lowe went to culinary school just to learn more about cooking. After graduating, she established a nonprofit called Be a Little Too Kind that feeds a hot meal to 120 homeless people every Thursday. This is what her home kitchen looks like in preparation for delivery day. “The choice to go to school felt selfish, but I felt so strongly about doing it…it was meant to be,” she said. (Courtesy Jessica Lowe)

Have you ever encountered six dozen bagels dumped in the middle of a road? Mike Snyder has. Have you felt really strongly about doing something not knowing why? Jessica Lowe has. Snyder and Lowe were recognized as Draper City’s Extra Mile winners for 2023. Both began their good deeds by chance, something unplanned that led them to go the extra mile for others. 

“I started walking to get more exercise and noted there’s a lot of trash around the streets, so I started to pick it up,” Snyder said. He’s been walking and working at that task for seven years.

“A while back, I decided I wanted to go to culinary school. When school ended, I’d made so many friendships with all the “Homies” (her name for the homeless friends she’s met) and I realized this is why I felt so strongly about attending this school…because this is actually what I was supposed to do,” Lowe said. She’s spent the last two years preparing meals once a week for people who are experiencing homelessness in Salt Lake’s Ballpark area.

Here are their stories…

If you live in the Willow Springs area or drive near Corner Canyon High School in the morning, chances are you’ve seen Snyder. He’s the man walking while wearing a neon yellow shirt, red hat, tennis shoes and carrying a tool designed for picking up trash. When it’s dark outside, he adds a reflective vest and headlamp for safety. Always with him is a large Chick-fil-A bag that he’s found to be just the right size and strength for the job. “I can last a whole year with almost one bag…it’s thick plastic and I will empty it three times a day. (He stops to empty it at two different spots on his route and the last time at home.) When I first started, I’d take grocery bags, but I’d fill them up so fast. One day I found one of these and it holds twice as much,” Snyder said. 

Another important piece of equipment is Snyder’s watch that allows him to log his steps and watch the time. “I do over 900 miles per year, that’s 5.5 miles each day for a little more than two hours…about 380 hours each year.” All those miles mean he needs to get new shoes about every six months. 

When Snyder started walking for exercise more than a decade ago, CCHS was under construction and garbage from that project blew around the neighborhood. That’s where the idea to pick up trash while out on his walk came from. He did that for about four years but had to take a two-year break when his office moved and there wasn’t enough time in the morning. Three years ago, his office moved to Draper and he resumed his trash collecting efforts. Recently retired from his career as a paralegal, he’s out the door by 7 a.m. four days each week, hindered only by heavy rain or high winds. “On really windy days, it’s not worth the trouble because the trash blows around anyway,” Snyder said. 

His record-setting day was a most unusual one. “Somebody dumped about six dozen bagels in the road, so I had to run and empty the bag and go back for the other three dozen.” More frequent finds are fast food bags, drink cups and wrappers, and water bottles. “I’ve pretty much found everything…a couple cell phones, digital cameras, lots of credit cards…you’d be surprised.” 

Inevitably, the most litter happens after CCHS football games. There’s much less trash during summer when school’s not in session.

What’s his message to litterbugs? “We live in an incredibly beautiful city and I think it’s all of our responsibility to keep it clean, to take pride in where we live…that’s what it’s about. Don’t trash Draper!”

Meanwhile, Lowe spends three days each week focused on shopping for and preparing food to deliver to her “Homies,” something she started doing more than two years ago after she graduated from culinary school. 

“The funny thing is, I just wanted to learn more about cooking. I didn’t have a desire to work in the food industry. The choice to go to culinary school felt selfish. While I was researching which program…I felt strongly about going to one in downtown Salt Lake. Within the first two days of school, I realized we were going to be making and then throwing away a ton of food. I would park my truck and walk to and from the school building, and in doing that, I would pass homeless people. I thought why are we not just packing up this food and giving it to the people outside?” 

She started bringing containers from home and she’d pack her school leftovers and pass them out to whomever she walked past. “The rest of the class started giving me their leftovers as well. I gained a partner from class and we would drive around and pass out all the leftovers,” she said. That amounted to about 20 meals.

After 12 weeks of culinary school, Lowe had a realization. Instead of just taking the cooking skills she’d learned home to her family, she established a nonprofit to help the people she’d passed coming and going to cooking school. 

For Lowe, a mother of five with two kids still at home, much of the week is centered on feeding her “Homies.” After she drops her children at school, she begins. Tuesdays are spent making a list of all the things she’ll need that week followed by a trip to the grocery store. Her average grocery bill in preparation for each Thursday delivery is about $500 per week, and that’s just for the hot meal. “That includes the food, the deli cups, the Ziploc bags and anything else we’ll need that week. We provide a hot, homemade meal every week and a sack lunch for later. In that sack is water, juice, chips, a sandwich and a homemade treat.” Volunteers donate the ingredients for the sack lunches, so Lowe sends out a Tuesday reminder to whomever signed up to provide those. 

“Wednesday, from the time I get back from taking kids to school until bedtime, I’m cooking all day. I actually really enjoy it, it’s kind of therapeutic. I’m in my zone doing something I love and I know the people that are going to receive it are going to greatly appreciate it,” she said. She cooks large quantities without the luxury of an industrial size kitchen like she had in culinary school. Instead, it all happens in her home kitchen. “I do have extremely large size pots and pans,” she said. She also has two refrigerators that come in handy for the volume of food she’s producing.

She gets the meal to a point that it’s prepped and cooked and then puts it in the refrigerator so it’s ready to be warmed up on Thursday. Crumbl cookies delivers about 12 dozen treats each Wednesday, and with the help of her kids, Lowe individually bags those goodies.

Her mouthwatering menu includes a rotation of meals including chicken spaghetti, Frito pie, roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy, chicken stir fry, jambalaya, chicken curry, chicken dumplings and lasagna soup. The Homies’ favorites are Frito pie, roasted chicken with mashed potatoes, and chicken curry. “But they really love them all, and they’re always so grateful and complimentary,” she said.

Thursday mornings, Lowe assembles 100 sack lunches and uses her oven or stovetop to warm up the hot food she’ll be taking. Once hot, the meals go into individual deli cups and into coolers to keep them warm. She loads it all into her truck and heads to Salt Lake City.

She does it rain or shine and even on Thanksgiving Thursday because people are depending on her for a full belly and a friendly word. October marked two years that she’s been doing it, she remembers because she started on her birthday.

It came to pass that other organizations arrive at the same location and time to offer other services to the homeless people Lowe feeds. The Asian Association of Salt Lake does a food pantry, helps people get into housing, and occasionally provides clothing. The Fourth Street Clinic offers medical care and testing. Soap2Hope does syringe exchanges, bus passes and hygiene kits. “We all decided to team up since we’re all out there doing this at the same time anyway,” she said. 

Lowe never imagined she’d work for a nonprofit, let alone start one. “That’s almost another job in and of itself, learning how to do it all.” Utah law requires nonprofits have a board of three, so Lowe serves as executive director, her attorney husband handles the paperwork, and her friend serves as treasurer. 

For Snyder and Lowe, inspiration to give of themselves for the greater good comes from the people they’ve encountered.

“A lot of people will honk or wave or come up and talk to me and that’s always nice…to meet these great people,” Snyder said. 

Lowe said, “I see how touched the Homies are that someone thinks about them and cares about them, and puts effort into something for them. They’re the most generous people I’ve ever met. They will give you anything of theirs and they have the least to give. That’s made a big impression on me, to be more generous in every way.” 

Lowe offered an additional life lesson learned. “It’s taught me not to be afraid. I’ve realized that caution and fear are two different things. Caution warns you maybe you shouldn’t do this, but fear is something that’s new, something that’s going to be a little scary at first, but it’s actually going to be something that helps you grow and propel you forward.”

You can help Snyder by making sure your garbage gets into a trash can or by smiling, waving or introducing yourself to him while he’s out walking. 

You can help Lowe by visiting her organization’s website or on Instagram @bealittletookind to sign up to donate items or funds. λ