This Chicago Plant Seller Gives Ice-Fishing Tents to Those Experiencing Homelessness

With proceeds from Plants Delivered Chicago, Andy Robledo has helped provide the local unhoused community temporary housing, thousands of meals, and compassion.

Andy Robledo, owner of Plants Delivered Chicago, stands next to blue pickup truck.
Andy Robledo, owner of Plants Delivered Chicago. Photo:

Alejandro Reyes

Cruising around Chicago, Andy Robledo delivers plants to people’s doors in his recognizable, old blue pickup truck. But his customers may not know they’re doing more than just sprucing up their homes—they’re supporting the local unhoused community. What started as a side hustle for Robledo in 2019, quickly grew from a hobby to a full-fledged business called Plants Delivered Chicago. During the pandemic, sales grew so quickly that he was able to leave his corporate job. But the health crisis also revealed a lot of suffering in the community, and Robledo saw an opportunity to help others by donating proceeds from his business to a food bank. That eventually led him to create his nonprofit, The Orange Tent Project, which provides orange ice-fishing tents, food and resources to the local unhoused community.

Tell me about how your plant business got started.

I'm an alcoholic in recovery, and when I quit drinking—right before the pandemic—I was like, “Wow, I have zero hobbies.” I had gotten into plants and started selling one plant at a time through Facebook Marketplace, eventually reaching 100 deliveries. I said, “You know what? I'm onto something here, and I’ll call it Plants Delivered Chicago.” I started that in November 2019. When the pandemic hit, I thought my side hustle might have to go away. But I noticed all the big companies were pivoting to delivery. I thought, “All right, well if they can do it, then I'm gonna do it.” There was a massive increase in demand for plants because people were in their homes and investing in their spaces. I just happened to be one of the services, delivering seven days a week: tall plants, small plants, a little bit of everything. That's when things really took off, and that's when I was able to quit my corporate job.

T-shirt and logo of Plants Delivered Chicago

Alejandro Reyes

When did the philanthropic side of the business happen?

It was through the pandemic and the need I saw that I realized I could be more than just another plant shop. My business was doing well and growing, but I noticed the only people outside were delivery drivers and people waiting in lines wrapped around the block at food pantries. I decided to start donating 25 percent of my profits to the Greater Chicago Food Depository. It was my calling from the universe to step into being that person that I always wanted and couldn't be when I was actively destroying my life with alcohol. I had an opportunity to give back and not only help others, but heal myself and grow a business in the process.

So where does your community outreach stand now?

When I first started Feeding People Through Plants, one thing I identified after visiting unhoused encampments was that a ton of people would come to help donate a huge amount of food on Saturdays and Sundays. The rest of the week, no one came around; there'd be no food. I started gathering people to eat dinner together. But when it's really cold, people don't have the ability to travel, to go get meals or find a soup kitchen. You have to bring food to them when they're in these tents. So food delivery became a big part of the program and we started with one weekday. Now the organization is doing up to five days a week of food delivery. Just this year, the organization has delivered close to 20,000 meals, and before it was a standalone nonprofit we funded almost 100,000 meals for the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

Orange tents on the street in Chicago.

Feeding People Through Plants has evolved into The Orange Tent Project. Why did you start giving people ice-fishing tents?

When I was out in my neighborhood, I noticed there were more people living on the streets than ever before. The conditions got worse and worse every single day, so I started going to the unhoused encampments to identify what people needed to stay warm in the winter and how I could help. That's when The Orange Tent Project nonprofit came to be. 

After a stint of putting people in hotels during a big winter storm, where folks were unprepared in summer tents, we came back from the hotel and all of their tents were destroyed. I thought, “There's got to be a better way to build something that can withstand the elements.” I got the idea of using fishing tents after learning about a Minnesota pastor who kept the unhoused safe in them. Version 1.0 was created in the winter of 2021 to 2022 after building a bottom out of pallets. The tents themselves cost around $200, but with the cost of bottom building materials and if a person wants a heater and a starter pack of propane you're looking at right around $500.

How has your personal journey influenced your nonprofit work?

My personal struggles have helped me build the capacity and the ability to make space to help and love others and to offer more grace. I think it's in struggle and pain and challenges that we learn to offer more compassion. We learn that people aren't perfect. We learn that everyone deserves another chance. I think the only way to learn compassion is by struggling yourself.

Since taking a step back from an active day-to-day role, what does it mean to see the nonprofit grow?

It's incredible to see something that I've created grow bigger than me. I've given a significant amount of money, effort and time since the inception of the organization. The need is so massive and what the organization stands for, and how it was crafted, really meets the need out there and offers that love, compassion and a second chance for people. It's an urgent emergency situation out there when it gets really cold here in Chicago and it was a role that I'm happy that I was able to step into. Now, it’s a role the organization can step into.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

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