Food Not Bombs World Gathering feeds the hungry in Tampa before the Republican convention
An activist group fed 20 members of the Tampa community oatmeal and fruit this morning. Food Not Bombs is partnering with members of Occupy Tampa at their Voice of Freedom Park encampment where to feed the hungry this week. Elizabeth Toms, a member of Occupy Tampa, said the turn out has been good so far, but she hopes it will get better as the week goes on.
“Some were like, extremely grateful. Like, oh I’m not hungry, but I’ll definitely go get some coffee. There’s a couple kids coming up, so I’m just letting them know we’ll be doing this every morning and evening.”
About a dozen activists took turns helping doll out plates of food and cups of coffee to anyone passing by. All of the food used by Food Not Bombs is vegan. Activists try to use home grown produce and donated items that aren’t made with any animal bi-products. Keith McHenry, co-founder of the group, said they made that decision because Food Not Bombs advocates against all forms of violence.
“We also read a book by Frances Moore Lappe on diet for a small planet and we became concerned that it took so much more water and land to grow beef and meets that it was kind of a waste of resources when people are going hungry and we wanted to make that point. And finally, because we wanted to make it a model that anybody could do without refrigeration trucks.”
The activist group started more than thirty years ago. McHenry said they’ve recently upped their presence in Florida.
“There were a bunch of problems in Florida a couple of years ago with anti-feeding laws and large group feeding laws of which Orlando is the most famous where they made it so that you had to have permits to share more than 24 people and you could only do it twice in twelve months and so on. And so all these cities – Sarasota, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale – all started enacting similar policies against feeding the hungry.”
Both Tampa and St. Petersburg have implemented panhandling bans that have left many less fortunate without their only means of income. McHenry said the group’s event is being held the week before the Republican National Convention for a reason.
“Because the Republican party in Florida is really largely responsible for these anti-homeless laws; although the Democrats share their blame too.”
Their World Gathering at the Occupy Tampa encampment this week has also stirred debate in City Hall. City Council member Frank Reddick responded to cries from the area’s homeowner’s association to kick the group out of the private park they’ve been occupying since December by saying that the Food Not Bombs event would bring unmanageable crowds into the park. Council members Mary Mulhern and Lisa Montelione suggested the city help them by providing water and Port-o-Lets. But Occupy Tampa’s Elizabeth Toms said some people are still being pestered by police.
“They were in the parking lot that was not used at all until we came here – a really small place – and police came by a few days ago and said we’re not allowed to park there anymore and if anybody steps foot in there we will be trespassed. So, we’re talking to the owner right now to see if we can keep on using it. I have no confirmation that they talked to the owner at all before doing this.”
Late Friday night Police were asked to leave the private park. The events were live video streamed and recorded on video. The police ignored the requests.
Despite controversy, the group expects the week-long food action to go on. Mark Buckley, an Occupy supporter has been retro-fitting an old school bus to use for events like the Food Not Bombs World Gathering. He calls it the Occupy Roadshow. Buckley said he and some other volunteers are building the stage today and expect to use it for live music and entertainment throughout the week.
“We can give a little bit of festivity to the event here that sort of focuses on the area that was donated to us to use for the Occupy and the Food Not Bombs event.”
Buckley added, the bus will also be used as one of the group’s serving stations.
“It’s hard to lock stuff down and we have the coffee center and the hydration center in here because we can easily keep the water and the ice in here.”
Food Not Bombs expects as many as 200 activists from across the country to trickle in throughout the week. Many of the volunteers will use the event as an opportunity to plan future actions. Co-founder Keith McHenry said they’ll also offer training to activists and members of the community on how to create their own sustainable garden.
“So, there’s workshops on how to do cooking, how to do community organizing. There’s people giving reports back from other cities from what Food Not Bombs is doing there. I’m really stressing the idea of having literature and banners at all of the meals, so I’m going to do a workshop on that. And then towards the end we’re going to have a meeting of everybody in Food Not Bombs about inter-group communications.”
The neighborhood-feeding event coincides with Hillsborough County Public Schools re-opening tomorrow after the summer break. Activists aren’t serving breakfast until 10 in the morning which is long after students have started their day. But McHenry said he would be willing to fire up the kitchen a little earlier if it would help kids in the community get breakfast before school.
“I think probably, basically some of the younger, local organizers also party and stuff like that, so they didn’t want to get up too early so ten to them seemed really early. I don’t really do that so I probably could organize something like that. That sounds really good.”
Some of the food used to feed the hungry at this and other Food Not Bombs events is donated by other activists in the community. Occupy Tampa’s Toms said they’ll be serving day-old bread donated by a local sub shop, but a lot of the food came from the activists in Sarasota.
“What Sarasota Food Not Bombs did at the end of last school semester – a lot of kids forgot they had their meal plan and didn’t use all their points – so what they did at the end of the year, they kind of campaigned for all the kids to go in and use their money to buy food that they can use for Food Not Bombs.”
The World Gathering will continue through Sunday. More information on Food Not Bombs donations and events is on their website.
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