Oct 15, 2019
Jasmine Castillo and her family walk down Santa Clara avenue near the Poverello House handing out free burritos and hygiene products for Castillo's birthday on April 13, 2018. (Ramuel Reyes/ The Collegian)

Would you spend your birthday feeding the homeless? This student did.

The yellow afternoon light peeked through the thin openings of Jasmine Castillo’s kitchen window blinds.

The rising steam from a giant pan glimmered in its path as she tapped a spoon against the metal, ready to scramble a batch of eggs.

The senior studying public health administration at Fresno State had spent the morning of her 24th birthday on April 13 preparing burritos for the homeless people living in tents outside Poverello House in downtown Fresno.

The tradition was started four years ago on her 21st birthday, an occasion typically celebrated with a big night out to celebrate newly-acquired privileges. But throwing a party and going out for her first adult drink was a privilege Castillo was willing to pass up.

“For me growing up, people always wanted to drink,” she said. “And I was just like, it was never a thing for me. Why do we have to do that?”

So she had an idea.

“How about we do something more positive? More beneficial.”

Soon, “Jaz’s Birthday Wish” was started online as a fundraising effort to purchase toiletries to take to Poverello House. Before, she would deliver supplies to the Poverello House but never got the chance to meet the people who benefited from her donations.

In 2017, Castillo wanted her efforts to include more personal interaction between her and those who would get her donations. She decided to serve the toiletries herself, along with water and burritos, with the help of friends and family.

This year she raised $356.25, and along with the help, she prepared and served 290 burritos and 284 toiletry packs.

Serving for her community has always been part of Castillo’s character, said Dulce Sora, Castillo’s close friend since their days at Edison High School.

“It didn’t just start. She’s always been involved through programs like this, or she’s always tried to help everybody,” Sora said. “If they need help, she always wants to be the first one there.”

Castillo has remained active in her community by volunteering with programs such as Muscular Dystrophy Association and Saint Agnes Medical Center. In 2012, she was awarded “Woman of the Year” for District 31 by Assemblyman Henry T. Perea for her community service.

That honor made Luz Castillo a proud mother. She said she is very proud of her daughter and the efforts she puts toward helping others.

As she prepares to graduate in May, Castillo plans to keep serving through an internship with “City Year” in Seattle, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building healthy communities in their area.

Growing up, Castillo had always dreamed of starting a nonprofit organization but quickly realized there were already groups doing the work she cared about, so she decided to volunteer with them – no matter what the cause was.

“They’re all amazing, and they all want to do something positive,” Castillo said. “I guess that’s the gist. Doing something positive. Helping benefit someone, it doesn’t matter for what cause, they’re all important in my eyes.”

Castillo is aware that many homeless people are categorized as criminals and drug addicts. Those notions have even caused some of her own friends to question why she would “reward” them with free food.

But Castillo doesn’t see it that way.

She has learned that not all homeless people are addicts, and that they would gladly accept help from those who offer it.

“I’m just giving them a burrito,” she said. “I’m just giving them some food. I’m just giving them some toiletries, some essentials, something that they need.”

And for Castillo, personally delivering the donations makes the difference.

Back at her kitchen, the sweet aroma of warm flour tortillas filled the room as Castillo, her mother and her friends organized an assembly line to wrap the bean, egg and potato-filled burritos.

She wants this helping tradition to continue even when she is not around.

“I want to signify that I’m here to help, that I want to make a change,” she said. “I’m always telling my family I’m going to change the world.”

Castillo said she’s already seen her 7-year-old sister take an interest in service too, and while she has never actively tried to be a service role model for them she’s happy that she can shed a positive light for her siblings.

By 6 p.m. on Castillo’s birthday, she and her group made their way downtown to deliver their hard work and a day’s worth of love.

By the end of the day, she would have fed yet another group of unprivileged citizens on her birthday all while setting her own privileges aside – a behavior some would say is well suited for someone with a quest to “change the world.”

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