Friday, June 19, 2009

Homeless, to Business Ownership!

Luis is not your average bakery delivery guy, bringing cakes, pastries and breads to your local restaurants, delis and hotels. On first glance he’s just another guy zipping around Manhattan in a van, with places to go and deliveries to make. But if you have the chance to get to know him, Luis is one of the most inspiring people you will ever meet.

Luis was homeless just ten years ago. He was that guy holding a sign saying “Need Work”. Without a place to stay or a way to earn a living, he was invisible, as many of the homeless are to the rest of society. That was, at least, until the owner of a bakery decided to give Luis a chance, and offered him work doing deliveries.

Luis didn’t let this chance go to waste, and he built a reputation for being a hard worker. Delivering baked goods in New York is hard work. You begin at 2 a.m., when many in Manhattan are still partying the night away, and you work into the afternoon. He kept at his work, building relationships with colleagues and customers, and keeping his boss happy, until the attacks of September 11 changed everything.

On September 11, 2001, at 8:30am, Luis made his regular delivery to a restaurant in the World Trade Center called Windows on the World; most of the customers that he delivered to were in and around the World Trade Center. Just minutes later, the attacks on the World Trade Center took place while Luis was making a delivery in another building. Luis miraculously survived the events, and to this day he carries in his wallet the pass he used to access the World Trade Center for the last time.

The van Luis drove was parked many floors below the World Trade Center and did not survive the attacks. Neither did most of the businesses that received deliveries from the company Luis delivered for and so the delivery service was unable to recoup the losses and was forced to fold. Luis, however, had too much to work for – three sons – and so he decided to start a delivery business of his own.

Luis didn’t have enough cash to buy a van himself – he needed a loan. And he couldn’t find any banks that would lend him money to buy a van for a new delivery business. He did, however, find a microfinance institution based in Manhattan, ACCION USA, who would lend him the money for the van, recognizing that he was hard-working and had the experience to be successful in his own delivery company. Luis bought a van, and starting with only two of the old company’s customers, he established a new client base.

Since Luis launched his own delivery company, business has been slow at first, but is increasing, and he now owns a second van so that he can hire additional help when he needs it. He still works hard, picking up bread for his first delivery route at 2 a.m., and visiting two more bakeries at 6 a.m. and again at 11 a.m. for more deliveries. He makes dozens of stops every day to restaurants and hotels throughout New York City.

Most recently, Luis applied for a second loan through ACCION USA. He needs to refrigerate his van so that when he makes deliveries in the hot New York summer, the cakes don’t spoil. Refrigerating an entire delivery van is not cheap, and he needed $5,625 to buy a cooling system for the vehicle. ACCION USA, as one of Kiva’s pilot partnerships in the US, posted Luis’ loan request on and it has already been funded by 160 Kiva Lenders.

Luis admits that he works hard, but he has a strong motivation to do so – three sons, two of whom are serving as Marines, one of whom just recently returned safe from Iraq. Luis’ youngest son Luigi, is thirteen years old, and the namesake for Luis’ company. Luis jokes that his thirteen year old son is the actual owner of the business, but he is very sincere when he says that his son is the reason he works so hard.

Luis, like fathers around the world, is striving to build a better life for his children. He is proud of the life he is leading, the legacy that he is creating and the prosperity he is providing for his family. Every morning when Luis climbs into the van he owns, he sees his son's name proudly displayed on the door and works hard to build that legacy.

Watch the video below to see Luis telling his story to President Premal Shah, ACCION USA President & CEO Gina Harman and ACCION USA CFO Paul Quintero.