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How LI Food Not Bombs Alleviates Hunger

Be warned, this is a long story, but one we at LIFNB truly hope you’ll read through. This is a chronicle of a moment in our history just a few weeks ago. We’re sharing it to teach all of you about our community, to hear your thoughts, your critique and to stoke your engagement. If you like what you read, please donate some much-needed funds, or of more importance, your time.

Written with much love, and a challenge to elevate those who talk into action,
Jon Stepanian & Long Island Food Not Bombs  

We at Long Island Food Not Bombs often write about the special events or campaigns we’re engaged in – perhaps you’ve seen our posts about school supply collections, or our many festive holiday feasts. What we haven’t been so great at conveying across to our online audience is what we do on a day-to-day basis. Call this a reflection on our regular happenings and this post, “The Memoir of Long Island Food Not Bombs, Sunday, Sept. 29th 2013”.

The Preparation.

This story starts at 12:30am as I’m driving home from Brooklyn after our weekly Bed-Stuy food share. The drive is routine and along the way I make a few cellphone calls to local food sources seeing if they have any donations for the night. The result is a quick detour through Plainview and a backseat full of strawberries and bananas.

It’s not a bad haul, a few hundred pounds of fruit.

Little did I know, Shalini Krueger, a fellow volunteer, was doing the same thing on the east end of Long Island. She collected over 1,110 pounds by 1am; roughly the same time I got back home.

Tipping my hat to my fellow volunteer, I went to bed.

As with every Sunday mourning, I woke up at 6am for my weekly ritual – cooking a vegan feast for 500. Popping up from bed, and running into my kitchen, I start boiling large pots of water filled with rice, quinoa, pasta, farro and other grains.

I won’t lie, many people think there’s some magic process for how I cook so much food each week, but there’s no magic, its just improvisation. I start by boiling grains because they take the longest time to cook, usually 45 minutes. I use all my stoves’ burners for this and while the pots boil away I have ample time to wake myself up, chop tons of veggies and vaguely plan out what meals I’ll actually be making for the day.

By 10am, I’ve completed two trays of vegan macaroni & cheese which are topped with homemade coconut bacon; a tray of coconut quinoa with toasted chickpeas and a pineapple sauce; a tray of volcano rice & beans with heirloom chipotle and jalapeno peppers; a tray of forbidden rice with miso tamari roasted collard greens and fava beans; a tray of homemade polenta with kale, sundried tomatoes, cannellini beans, zucchini, black olives and artichoke hearts; a tray of tofu scramble ramen (think vegan eggie-noodles); a pot of tomato soup with farro and fall vegetables; a pot of black bean vegan chicken noodle soup; and 5 gallons of ginger peach iced tea.

At the same time a fellow volunteer, Rose Zacchi, is just arriving at a supermarket in Brookhaven where she’s discovered two large shopping carts filled with milk and eggs. This is a major problem because she already has a carload of milk in her apartment complex’s walk-in refrigerator and because she has yet another pickup to do in just under an hour. There’s no way Rose will be able transport all these loads to our Hempstead Food Share at 2pm so she calls in the re-enforcements; Karen Sacket.

By 10:45am Rose & Karen have packed up the two shopping carts of milk and eggs and headed off to their second supermarket pickup. When they arrived they discovered 18 shopping carts of groceries for donations, a whopping 2,643.75lbs! Alas, this is what we call #FNBproblems – the hunt for further reinforcements begins.

We’re lucky for having so many dedicated volunteers at Long Island Food Not Bombs, but we’re still always in need of more. The problem for Rose & Karen was that all our other volunteers were in similar situations.

At 11am, Melanie Rubin was in Plainview picking up bread from a local bakery; Grace Garey was in Elwood picking up at a farm; Randy Barbera was in Jericho buried under uboats of produce; Tushara, Jim and half a dozen others were spread out over Garden City picking up bananas and apples; Stanly was at a Waldbaums in Oceanside; Coryna was collecting canned goods in Manhasset; Eileen was putting together bags of toys and clothing donated by patrons of her hair stylist shop; the good folks at Shiloh Baptist church were putting together bags of fruit; volunteers with Outrageous Living God’s Word Ministry were collecting pies; Kelvin was gathering together bags of baby supplies and books; I was picking up cherry tomatoes at a farmers market in Huntington; and dozens of other volunteers were preparing and gathering donations of their own across almost every town in Long Island.

This is the hidden reality of Long Island Food Not Bombs. Most people see our food shares, the large spectacles of community solidarity where hundreds of neighbors share a massive bounty of food with each other. What’s hard to see is the scale of the operation behind those food shares, the volunteers collecting materials, the employees of supermarkets setting goods aside for contributions, the cafés hosting donations bins, the unsung accumulators gathering their neighbors’ and coworkers’ old clothing, and I can go on, and on…

Each month over a thousand volunteers contribute to this invisible process, yet on a day-to-day basis we’re still always in need of more help. For Rose & Karen, the overextended nature of our anti-hunger movement became both a serious problem and the beautiful gift associated what we dare to accomplish.

By noon, Rose & Karen called everyone they knew for assistance, all to no avail. It was a desperate shot in the dark that caused Rose to call her neighbor, John, and it was this desperate shot in the dark that saved the day. John, having never heard of Long Island Food Not Bombs, or Rose’s personal involvement in the movement loved the idea and within the hour rolled up in a giant commercial van all ready to help spread some nutrition to folks in need.

This is the greatest strength of Long Island Food Not Bombs.

Anyone can volunteer, in any way they like, because we aren’t a top-down nonprofit business, we’re a bottom-up grassroots movement. This is why we always get the job done. We rely on the energy of newcomers and the experience of seasoned volunteers.

But I digress. If you’ve read this far, I’m sure what you really want to know is how the Hempstead Food Share all came together.

The Hempstead Food Share.

It’s 2pm, and like clockwork neighbors gather together outside the Hempstead Train Station for the weekly Long Island Food Not Bombs Hempstead Food Share. Or so I assume, I’m actually speeding down the Northern State in a dangerously overloaded Honda Accord.

It’s not the best-looking car, but I can get it to hold more food than most could imagine. I’m coming from a pickup in Jericho, the one where Randy Barbera was buried under uboats of produce. After picking up those cherry tomatoes at the Huntington Farmers’ Market, I headed over to give Randy a hand.

In total there were nine of us packing out our cars with ice cream, peaches, and 6,035lbs of other great groceries. But packing up all those groceries takes a long time. Even if you have eight other volunteers helping you out, you tend to run late; hence me speeding down the Northern State.

At 2:15pm, when I finally pull into the Hempstead Train Station parking lot I’m greeted by the regular crowd of hundreds of people. Like clockwork, before I can even turn off my engine, the chaos begins. Tables are pulled from my car, along with those boxes of strawberries and bananas, and even some of that ice cream from Jericho. A swarm of volunteers unloads my car in less than a minute and a half. It’s an astonishing feat considering it took me longer than an hour to pack it all in there.

In total we use 17 large folding tables for our Hempstead Share. I bring 13 of them, and Stanly brings the rest. Most people would think 306 square feet of table space is a lot, but the reality is that as we unload each vehicle we cover every inch of those tables very quickly. After that point we begin to stack huge piles of food on the sidewalk.  In all, we span over 2 city blocks and on this Sunday we’re barely able to fit into that space.

As usual volunteers create a produce section on the east end of the train station parking lot, a grocery section on the south end, a bakery section on the south west corner, and a clothing, toys and housewares section on the west end. If I’m not doing a good job describing the layout, just imagine what a massive free supermarket would look like – a place where people exchange goods and services with each other for free, instead of using money.

It’s only been five minutes, since my arrival and all our volunteers have already set up all the tables at all the different sections. New volunteers have been gathered together and given jobs and we’re ready to unload the massive bounty our volunteers collected for throughout the day.

One by one, cars pull through the Hempstead train station parking lot in a massive caravan of free food; and one by one, our volunteers unload their contents and bring their donations to the appropriate distribution sections. It’s really an unbelievable site, seeing dozens of people moving back and forth with boxes of tomatoes or bags of pies dropping them off at the produce section or the bakery section and coming right back for more.

Together we unloaded as quick as we could, but it still took us roughly 25 minutes to unload the 33 filled vehicles we had for the day. By the time the last box came out of the last car we had over 176 boxes of produce piled taller than the height of most of our volunteers; over 2,568 loaves of bread in our bakery section; over 27 garbage bags filled with bouquets ready to be given out in the back of our crowd; and so much more!

At this point, our volunteers were just about ready to start, and the crowd coming for groceries had swelled to a little more than 500 people. While the task at hand seems difficult, the reality is that it’s easily managed.

Long Island Food Not Bombs is a nonhierarchical organization. That means there’s no one-person in charge of things, just the opposite, we’re all in charge. Each one of the 47 volunteers who are physically present and about to share food at our Hempstead Food Share has her or his job of their own choosing. Some folks are in charge of breaking down boxes; some will be making bags of groceries for the disabled and elderly who have a hard time with the crowd; some will be community liaisons and so on.

To manage all this we use rotating “captains” for each section. For this Sunday, our produce captain was James a neighborhood resident and former football star. Our grocery captain was Jada a 12-year-old student and life long resident of Hempstead. Our bakery captain was Daniel a 25-year-old man who’s overcome his physical handicap all while sharing bread with his neighbors. Our clothing captain was Denis a Hempstead resident and former political prisoner. Our flower captain was Rosaline who had come for her third time ever. And our community liaison captain was Brain O’Haire who is also the founder of our Wyandanch Food Share.

Anyone can be a captain at our Food Shares, and as you can tell there’s no age, physical ability, experience or criteria that would exclude you. There’s also only one difference between a captain and any other volunteer. A captain’s job is to ensure that everything we share is shared fairly.

For example, in produce it’s the captain’s job to understand exactly what fruits and veggies we have and just how many apples, cantaloupes and potatoes each of the produce volunteers should be sharing with the 500 folks in the crowd.

Again, it’s these inner-workings most people outside of Long Island Food Not Bombs never get to see.  We rotate our volunteers, so anyone can be a captain. This helps everyone to understand how our food shares work so they don’t become reliant on any one group of people. In turn we benefit from the strength in diversity of both ideas and experience.

It’s 2:50PM and after unloading all our vehicles volunteers in need of groceries move around the Food Share to pickup their weekly shares before reporting to their stations. By 2:53pm we’re all ready to start. James, Jada, Daniel and Dennis, the day’s respective captains, raise their arms and begin twirling their index fingers one by one. This is the sign that their sections are ready to go. With the last finger raised in the air we all begin sharing food at 2:54pm.

As bags of groceries begin to be shared, all our volunteers uphold one basic principle – rotation. What we do relies on rotation, we never want the crowd standing still and we never want someone waiting online for more than a few minutes. In practice it’s quite simple.

At our produce section we have 6 different lines that all offer the same food. A person comes up and they can get two bags of fruits and vegetables of their choosing. Some items like grapes we limit to a package each, but for the most part if a person wants a lot of peppers and zucchini, that’s what they can get.

After a person receives their two bags, and if they’d like more produce, they are welcome to get back on the produce lines as many times as they’d like. If they’d like grocery items, then they can get on the grocery line, or if they want bread or clothing they can go to those areas as well.

Essentially our system is designed to offer people what they want the most. If a person really wants soymilk, they’ll get on the grocery line first and thus be more likely to get it. If they want focaccia bread then they’ll head to bakery first.

In addition, this system also offers people the quantities they’re looking for. If an individual needs food for the week she’ll go through each line once, get about 6 bags of groceries and be done for the day. If that person needs food for a family of four then she’ll stick around longer and go through each of the lines a few times. The best part is that as she sticks around longer, all the lines will get shorter because those people who need less will be done and off on their ways.

In practice this system works out perfectly, by 3:05pm every one of the 500 people in our crowd already has a few bags of groceries and we’ve barely made a dent in the stockpile behind our tables.

We’re 10 minutes into the share and it already looks like a carnival. There are kids running around with newly shared toys they just received as their parents pickup items that will make up their new school wardrobe. There’s volunteer sharing bouquets to folks at the end of all our lines, and others making bags of groceries for disabled residents. There are conversations everywhere you turn ranging on every subject imaginable. There are volunteers speaking pigeon Spanish, and Italian, Portuguese and Creole – all in dialogues with their confused and laughing neighbors.

There’s community in the truest and most vibrant form. Sometimes that community is ugly, or frustrating or enraging. Sometimes that community is beautiful, or heartwarming or empowering. But it’s always community, and at the end of the day, that community is more important than any of the food we shared. It’s that community, created by our food shares, that has the power to uplift people from poverty and other social ails. It’s that community that sustains our organization, and gives us the ability to collect and share so much. And it’s that community which will surpass all of us as individuals. Yes, Long Island Food Not Bombs share’s food, but what we really aim to share is a sense of community.

By 3:20pm that community has made quick work of the 18,875lbs of groceries we brought out to the Hempstead Train Station. By this time, our grocery and clothing tables are left bare and the variety at our produce tables has shrunk down to bananas and mixed greens.

It’s time for the hot meals to be brought out. Our grocery section volunteers’ help clean off the tables they were using and begin to cover them with table clothes. Next, we unload all the trays and pots of food I made earlier in the morning, spanning four folding tables we reveal a massive vegan feast.

Gathering a dozen or so volunteers to help with the effort, each gets a serving spoon to help share one of the scalding hot dishes and each gets instructions on what they’ll be sharing. Everything is vegan and almost always organic, there are always gluten-free dishes, and dishes designed to meet the needs of people with other allergies. Each one of our servers is given this information to make sure everyone getting a plate knows exactly what’s in the food she or he is about to eat.

By 3:25pm the first plates of hot food start to be served and the newly formed hot food line grows to over a hundred and fifty people. It’s hard writing about this since I’m usually the cook for Sundays. In general most people think the food is pretty delicious. For many people, it’s the only healthy hot meal they’ll get in their week.

It’s true that there are soup kitchens in Hempstead, but those places never offer healthy, organic and nutritious food, or meals like the kind you’d find at Long Island Food Not Bombs.

It’s also funny, I’ve been told by people, who aren’t very food insecure, that they often don’t eat breakfast on Sundays because they want to fill up on the lunch I make instead.

By 3:30pm, filling up is exactly what happens. There are groups of neighbors sitting together across every inch of the Hempstead train station parking lot eating their hot meals next to the massive bags of groceries they just gleaned for the week. It’s a wonderful and relaxing time when everyone can calm down for a moment. We’ve only been sharing groceries for 36 minutes, but at this point we’ve distributed everything except a few leftover bags of bread which well be bringing to other pantries after the share.

At this time a few volunteers begin the cleanup process, breaking down cardboard, putting together compost boxes, etc. while most others take a break and get some hot food. In another 15 minutes they’ll trade spots. By 4pm, most of the tables are broken down, huge piles of cardboard are being put into pickup trucks and brooms are brought out to start sweeping up the space. Most of our volunteers head home at this point after a long days work, but for those who stay behind there’s still lots to do.

Unfortunately, the village of Hempstead doesn’t want us using their trashcans, so our volunteers have to collect all the trash, compost, and cardboard at the end of the day and transport it all to dumps, compost piles and recycling centers. This tedious task takes time, and by 5:30pm there’s still a few of us at the Train Station parking lot cleaning up.

Like I’ve said before, there are some who only see our Food Shares and don’t see everything else that goes on around them. By 5:30pm, Rose Zacchi the volunteer who has been collecting donations since 10am, and who volunteered at our produce section during the food share, is back in eastern Long Island doing her 5th pickup of the day. This time she’s filled her car with orange juice she’ll be taking to a drug rehabilitation clinic. At the same time, Fast Car Jon, Randy, Stanly, James and I are all still at the Hempstead Train Station packing away cardboard, trash and left over bread. It isn’t until 6pm, that all our volunteers leave the Train Station parking lot, but even then the work isn’t finished.

At 6:15pm we’ve delivered food to the Interfaith Nutrition Network and fifteen minutes later, Randy is bringing garbage to the dump. At 8pm Fast Car Jon is delivering cardboard to the recycling center. By 10:45 pm, Randy’s delivered leftover bread to Phoenix House in Hauppauge and Pronto soup kitchen in Bayshore. By 11:45pm I’ve completed washing all of the day’s dishes (just in time for the second showing of the series finally of Breaking Bad at Midnight). And at 9am the next day Karen Sacket is taking left over produce to Phoenix House in Wainscott.

In all, Sunday Sept. 29th, 2013 wasn’t a special day for Long Island Food Not Bombs, it was a normal day, like any other Sunday. It’s also not like Hempstead is our only food share, we actually have six in total, and a few dozen pantries and soup kitchens we deliver to each week. The thing about Long Island Food Not Bombs is that we operate 24/7, and when we say that, we really mean that.

No matter what day of the week, or what time, or the weather, or the holiday, there is always someone out on the road picking up, or some store getting together donations, or someone down on their luck calling our hotline for assistance. We’re always there, and that’s what solidarity is all about – commitment, responsibility and defiance.

Defiance, in that we refuse to let our neighbors go hungry, defiance in that we refuse to accept the status quo and defiance in that we refuse to let anyone tell us we can’t change things.

Each and every day we are.

The Value.

There’s many ways you may interpret what I’ve written here. It’s a chronicle of a day in the life of Long Island Food Not Bombs and it’s a story from one volunteer’s perspective, yet the latter is limited to one set of eyes out of thousands, so how can I really tell you the story of Long Island Food Not Bombs Sept. 29th, 2013?

Perhaps to do so I should tell you about a day four years ago when I attended a hunger summit at Hofstra University. The summit was focused on how nonprofits could alleviate hunger in Long Island, and naively I went as a representative of Long Island Food Not Bombs thinking that I might have a seat at the table.

After presentations with graphs and figures about struggling Long Islanders the events curators, Island Harvest, presented their solution – essentially, to give them more money. When I offered other, non-monetary solutions I was shunned. With ridicule in her voice, the organizations CEO stated, “If you can’t calculate the problem, you can’t calculate the value of your service”.

I knew what she meant by value, not value to the community, but value to your nonprofit. You see other nonprofits didn’t want us at the summit because we didn’t add value to their bottom line. Every sandwich they donated to their “clients” was money they could attain from the state; the percentage of Latinos coming to their programs was new money from a foundation; and the number of food stamps they signed people up for was a percentage commission.

For me, this was the last straw; the calculated profit off the poor by those who publicly claimed to assist them.

I see a nonprofit system that assesses it’s own value using analytics and statistics. In so doing that system upholds the status quo all while profiting off of it. Without the poor, that system couldn’t exist, so it’s in that system’s best interest to ensure that there’s poverty. Hence, nothing ever changes.

This got me thinking how I could show the real value in what we do at Long Island Food Not Bombs. Not the monetary value we want to glean from foundations and donors, but the value to the community, regardless if you decide to donate a dollar or not.

This sparked an idea, how could I calculate the problems faced by my fellow Long Islanders? More importantly, how could I calculate the value of a solution to that problem, without perpetuation of the same problem?

The result was a program called “HARDAC”, a series of relationship databases that tracks our volunteers, the food we collect and even the nutrition we share each and every day. HARDAC is based on the same principles of Long Island Food Not Bombs. It’s nonhierarchical, so it’s able to assign volunteers to pickups on it’s own, any volunteer can use it and all volunteers can contribute to it’s functionality. This allows us to monitor the effect Long Island Food Not Bombs has on the community and the work of our volunteers.

Calculating the Problem.

Like I said before, there’s many ways to tell the story of Sunday, Sept. 29th, 2013, and up to now I’ve told that story merely through my own perspective. But through the eyes of our community, there’s a different story to be told.

Our Hempstead Food Share is a mirror of many other neighborhoods where Long Island Food Not Bombs operates. Much like Huntington StationFarmingville and Wyandanch; Hempstead Village is a densely populated yet economically impoverished area surrounded by villages and hamlets of extreme wealth.

While, all these locations are racially and culturally different, the surrounding areas of wealth are predominately white and culturally monolithic. Meaning, the rich white folks rarely interact in poorer more racially diverse areas. The result is a growing fear of the “other”, or an ease by many well-off to assume laziness is to blame for the fiscal blight of these impoverished areas. What is really to blame is a structural system of racism, but that is for another discussion.

The transportation system on Long Island is geared to NYC commuters and the means of public transportation to traverse these intra-economic boundaries between rich and poor villages is nearly non-existent. The result, is that most of the economically impoverished areas we operate in, like Hempstead village, effectively become prisons for their inhabitants.

There is little prospect of moving elsewhere since affordable living solutions are not present. There is little prospect of attaining a job that would elevate one out of these economic quarantine zones since jobs paying a living wage are nearly nonexistent across Long Island.

This isn’t to imply that the vast majority of people, who come to our food shares, or in particular our Hempstead Food Share, don’t have jobs. In fact, the vast majority of people have at least one job, if not two, or three. Their problem isn’t particularly unemployment; it’s that after working 50 to 60 hours a week they still can’t pay all their bills.

The skeptics to this reality will likely point to stereotypical signs of success, saying “see, they’re really free loaders because they can afford [fill in the blank]”. So merely to dismiss these skeptics, yes, most have cell phones, and some have cars, but these are tools (and expenses) many need to work in the current Long Island economy. The reality is that most people who come to us spend a significant portion of their incomes on transportation just to get to work or for the tools needed for work.

For example, according to a 2010 study conducted by Feeding America, roughly 34% of a surveyed 283,700 Long Islanders expressed that they often have to choose between skipping a meal each day or paying for gasoline to get to work. The same study found that over 47% of Long Islanders are regularly forced to choose between skipping a meal and paying for their rent or mortgage.

The background to the story here is that Long Island is an unsustainable place for most working class families. According to the most recent study of the Self-Sufficiency Standard compiled in 2010, an individual in Nassau County (where our Hempstead Food Share is located) would need to make $33,052 just to meet basic expenses, a family of four would need to earn $91,444 – the latter is nearly 400% the federal poverty line!

The Federal Poverty Line for a family of four is $23,550, but in Nassau County that same family would need to make $91,444 just to meet basic expenses for necessities like food, rent and transportation. So what does it mean when more than 50% of Hempstead Village families make less than $40,000 a year?

Simply put, it means that these families are in need of some sort of assistance since they can’t pay for both rent and food. It also means that even though these families don’t make enough to get by, they often make too much to qualify for federal or state assistance. The only way they can get help is through community organizations like our own. So unfortunately, for many, our Food Shares have become a stopgap from complete homelessness. (*Hempstead Income Map Below*)

This is only part of the problem, and part of the backstory to our story of Sept. 29th, 2013. Hempstead Village, like many other economically impoverished communities is also a “food desert”. If you’re not familiar with the term, a food desert is an area where nutrient dense foods, like fruits and vegetables are nearly nonexistent.

Hempstead Village has bodegas that will sell iceberg lettuce, or dry oranges. There’s your typical gambit of fast food restaurants peddling fried chicken and burgers. Few and far between, there will be a grocery store selling processed packaged foods.

What you will not find in Hempstead Village is a Trader Joes, or Whole foods. You will not find fresh produce, whole grains or organic foods. Essentially, you will not find healthy options.

There’s a misconception that people who are overweight can’t suffer from hunger. This misconception is based in the reality that fast food and high caloric foods are much cheaper and much easier to attain in an area like Hempstead Village. The result is a population that’s malnourished and often suffering of illnesses like obesity, heart disease, cancer, ADD and diabetes, just to name a few.

Hunger in modern America is often based in the inability to attain nutritious foods, foods that too often are priced out of the typical American family’s budget, or are geographically unattainable in a person’s own community. The result is that many can be overweight, from only eating high caloric foods, and still malnourished from being deprived essential nutrition. These people gain weight because their brains tell them to keep eating in a desperate attempt to gain more vitamins and minerals.

This plague of malnutrition has been shown to limit the educational growth of students, reduce life expectancy, increase infant mortality and inhibit the general happiness of our population.

This again, is only part of the problem, the final, and largest issue we strive to overcome, and the greatest piece to this backstory is the segregation and alienation we all suffer from living on Long Island. I’ve talked a lot about areas of Long Island that are economically impoverished, but it is the whole of Long Island that is socially and culturally impoverished.

Long Island is an area of the Have’s and Have Not’s, and that division separates us all. People often try to one up their neighbors with mundane statures of class. For the rich it’s who has the better car, the better TV, the better vacation home. For the poor it’s who goes to what church, who works what job, whether or not your children were born in wedlock.  We gossip about, denounce, and ridicule our neighbors for what they don’t have or the mistakes they’ve made. We separate ourselves through stuff we own and the places we choose to, or are forced to live.

Deep within us all there’s a yearning for something much more, there’s a yearning for a freedom from these constraints and while most keep trying to fill this void with further consumption or separation from the feared “other”, there are a handful of us who’ve awakened to the reality that the only thing that will set us free is each other. What we lack, what we yearn for, is community, friendship, belonging, a niche to kneed ones hands and build from fresh soil the world we dream and dare to believe in.

This is our backstory.

A Calculated Result, Change.

Like I said, the story of Long Island Food Not Bombs, Sunday, Sept.29th 2013 cannot be told in full without telling it from the eyes of our community. And when I say the eyes of our community, I mean much more than the 500+ people coming for food, I mean all those we touched on that day, and each day.

Lets start economically, since like I’ve explained that Hempstead Village has so many struggling families. Just for Sunday, Sept. 29th 2013 Long Island Food Not Bombs distributed over $47,599.58 worth of food and clothing in just under an hour and a half. That breaks down to $95.12 of food and clothing for each of the 500 people that joined use for the share.

Now that’s the Fair Market Value of the goods we shared, and not exactly cash in hand. So lets look at the real value of what we shared. On average each of the 500 people who came got 35.36lbs of groceries. That’s enough to meet 176.8% of their weekly needs. Effectively, for the whole week, each one of those people who came received all the groceries they needed for the week plus some for their neighbors.

Imagine, 500 people who can now save the money they would have spent on groceries to meet other expenses. Imagine the average family of four who might be able to get by spending as little as $80 a week on their grocery bill – I’m going real low here on purpose.

Now, those families of four in Hempstead who joined us Sept. 29th, and each week for our Hempstead Food Share are able to save that $80 dollars a week. In one-year’s time, that’s $4,160 and in eighteen-year’s time that’s $74,880 – enough to send two children to college, or pay a good portion of a mortgage, or numerous car payments, or whatever that family needs. It is money saved that prevents people from going deeper into poverty, and money that can uplift the next generation out of poverty.

Least we forget the 18,751.88lbs of food we shared in Hempstead that day also has its incredible nutritional value – 7,548.41 daily values of Protein, 18,933.13 daily values of Vitamin A, 9,277.48 daily values of Fiber, 12,507.27 daily values of Iron, and on, and on.

How can we know all this? Simply put, we log every bag of bread and box of bananas we collect. That computer program I told you about before, HARDAC, well we install it on our volunteers cellphones and when they collect donations from grocery stores our volunteers log each item they collect along with it’s weight – 10lbs of apples, 50lbs of broccoli, etc.. HARDAC then computes the nutritional information of the foods we’ve collected and can summarize the total nutrition we’ve collected for the day, or have distributed in a certain area.

For Sunday, Sept.29th HARDAC was able to assign 83.35% of the foods we collected with their relevant nutritional data – meaning, these numbers are a little lower than what we really gave out!

So how did we do? Check it out for yourself. In total this is what we shared: (Image Below)

Description: Macintosh HD:Users:JonSTeps:Desktop:Screen Shot 2013-10-04 at 9.36.52 PM.png
And for each of the 500 people who came to the Hempstead Food Share, this is what they received. PLEASE NOTE: The percentage on the Right side represents the percentage of that nutrients weekly (not daily) need met by the food we distribute on Sunday, Sept. 29th.



As you can see the foods we distribute are very nutritious and that’s because we only focus on healthy fresh foods. All the hot meals we make are vegan and all the groceries we distribute are vegetarian. Of those groceries we focus on organic foods, whole grain foods, and above all else produce. To elaborate, you can see the breakdown of the foods we distribute here by weight, and by the individual items we shared.

This is the our story told through the eyes of the community. It’s a story of life in all sense of the word. First, the ability to breathe, wiggle room for economically struggling families and individuals – the ability to not worry about where your next meal is coming from, or how you are going to feed your kids. Everyone who came on Sept. 29th, 2013 and everyone who comes to any of our Food Shares never has to worry about how they’ll feed their kids because we will all take care of each other.

When I say we, I mean all of us, our community. Not volunteers separate from people in need of groceries. We don’t have those lines, anyone can volunteer, whether or not you need the food, and anyone can come for food whether or not they want to volunteer. We are all treated equally, and in treating each other equally we are able to begin to thrive.

Thriving is what our food shares are. These Food Shares are not just areas to pull each other up, they’re areas where we can heal ourselves. What we share is nutrition; it’s health in areas that desperately need healthy foods. Foods that will extend the lives of those who receive them, foods that will help students study better, and foods that help everyone be a little healthier.

Thriving and healthy that is what our community is and it is community that is the real center of this day. Each day we grow because people fall in love with our community. It’s made up of every age group, every race, every religious or nonreligious background and every sexual orientation and identity. There is nothing that divides us, because we refuse to let ourselves be divided and there is nothing that can stop us for that same reason.

The story of Long Island Food Not Bombs Sept. 29th 2013 is the story of change. It’s the story of a community that’s daring to change the system it’s been placed in the middle of. It’s the story of people who’ve come to realize the community they themselves have created and are expanding each day. It’s the story of a community that dares you to follow its lead. Not with your philosophical agreement, but in your action.

We beg you, if you’ve read this far, don’t just agree with what we do. Don’t just praise the change we’re creating, make it happen yourself, within your own community. This is the story of what happens with action and commitment.

Without your action and commitment, the story will end with us.

Sept. 29th 2013 was a normal day for Long Island Food Not Bombs, nothing special. We don’t expect other groups across the country to get to our level overnight. It took us years of hard work to grow our community. We challenge all of you to do the same.

You see we’re sick of talking about GMO’s, the Military Industrial Complex, Privatization, and the millions of problems our society inflicts on its self. Stand up, and take action. Don’t just complain, or protest, BUILD SOMETHING! Build something you believe in, fail at it, and keep building till you succeed. There’s nothing else you can do if you want to change the world…

But don’t doubt, you can change the world!


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