Tuesday December 5, 2006

Burritos as Soul Food

A modern-day fish-and-loaves story with burritos as soul food is taking place at UD. Find out how one student is using his contest winnings to help spread UD's Catholic, Marianist mission.

Some college students barely know how they'll feed themselves let alone 800 others during the year. University of Dayton student Joe Melendrez is using three burritos a day for a year plus four 20-burrito parties won in a local Chipotle contest to spread his school's Catholic, Marianist mission of leading through service.

The aspiring Christian rapper unveiled his ode to Chipotle and then issued an open dinner invitation to talk about faith, life, service work, solidarity with the poor and equality, all of which are backbones of UD's mission.

"I have a responsibility to share this," said Melendrez, who will hold one burrito party for homeless in the area. "You live the Marianist mission by focusing your efforts on the well-being of others and working to fix problems in the community."

Danielle Desmond met with Melendrez, co-director of Marianist involvement for UD's student government association, because she "wanted a free burrito and to meet someone new.

"But, more importantly, I learned about the reasons he wanted to win (the contest), which I think are beautiful. He is very devoted. He is going beyond what most people would do with the burritos. He is sharing it with the rest of us, just as Jesus taught us to do."

Desmond said it was a much different trip to Chipotle than when she gossips with her girlfriends about the social scene or what's on TV.

"I learned, no matter how different people are, you can always find a common bond with someone," Desmond said. "Joe is helping the UD community by bringing different students together that would have probably never met and taken the time to know.

"I have always considered myself a religious person. But, I never considered sitting down at Chipotle, praying before I ate my burrito and talking about faith in a restaurant. Thanks to Joe's amazing faith and love for others, he has taught me that faith can be fun. Faith can be discussed anywhere. And, faith goes great with burritos."

Melendrez has shared a meal with more than 80 people already.

"I've met with people from all faiths — Christian, Jewish, agnostic," Melendrez said. "This has been rewarding, as I'm able to learn and better understand their personal stories and beliefs."

Melendrez makes announcements in classes, church and at speaking engagements at local high schools. Some people are acquaintances he doesn't know very well. Some reach him through Facebook.com or e-mail. He's even met with faculty members.

"His generosity and enthusiasm for sharing his faith are great," said the Rev. Chris Wittmann, S.M., UD director of campus ministry, who can't recall anything like this. "His initiative and creativity are very commendable."

When the year of the burrito ends, Melendrez will continue working on his music. He said he's looking forward to traveling to Catholic high schools nationwide after graduating in two years.

For more information, contact Shawn Robinson, associate director of news and communications, at 937-229-3391 or srobinson@udayton.edu.