Local crusader believes in a ‘Hand Up’ for all who need it

John Mandala believes that people are the most valuable resource. As the development officer for the nonprofit group Breathing Space, he looks for ways to give people who need it a "hand up" not a "hand out." These people often include the homeless, veterans and ex-prisoners.

"I live by the credo that for those who are given much, much is required," Mandala said. "In my own life, this is true. And I come across so many others who just need that extra sense of purpose."

For six months, Mandala operated a food truck at the Suntree Business Center during lunch hours called Chef John’s Red Wagon BBQ that prepared fresh food daily, and asked patrons to pay what they felt was fair. If a person needing a meal had no way to pay for it, Mandala asked for an hour of volunteer time instead.  

"It is amazing what asking someone to do a small task can do for their self-esteem, especially when they feel like they have nothing to give,"  Mandala said.

Chef John’s six-month agreement came to an end and so the meals have stopped for now, at least until Mandala can find another food truck and space to set up that is affordable, or free. In the meantime, he stays busy with a large garden in front of the Unitarian Universalist Friendship Fellowship at Pineda, just north of Suntree Boulevard on U.S. 1. He is in talks with local restaurants to donate some of the crops in return for meal donations to people in the Breathing Space program. On April 26, a fresh food marketplace was held and the money raised went to benefit Breathing Space programs and Friendship Fellowship.

In addition to his "hand up" programs, Mandala is a volunteer with the Alternative to Violence Project and has addressed the Unitarian church encouraging smarter solutions to anger management. 

"If you can give someone just a little bit of hope, you can make such a difference," Mandala said. 

Those who wish to learn more about volunteering alongside Mandala can email him at jemed27@yahoo.com