OPINION: Food Not Bombs is a massive benefit to Palouse community

Homegrown charity organization based in Moscow helps community, provides disaster response, emergency supplies

Food+Not+Bombs+provides+support+and+food+to+those+in+need+in+the+Palouse+community.+

LAUREN PETTIT

Food Not Bombs provides support and food to those in need in the Palouse community.

MAKAYLA NORTH, Evergreen columnist

Most of us are aware the consumerist attitude of our society means more “fresh” food will be produced than stores can possibly sell. If you’ve worked at a grocery store before, like I have, you probably know where most of the excess goes: unable to be sold under store policy, masses of quality food are thrown out.

But maybe it hasn’t crossed your mind before where that excess doesn’t go.

Operating out of the First Presbyterian Church in Moscow, members of the organization Food Not Bombs collect unsold leftovers from stores like Walmart and Safeway. They receive donations of fresh produce from several other local organizations. Every week, they host fresh, hot, free community meals. They arrange for people who ask to have food or “care packages” delivered to their homes.

The effects of a global pandemic and nationwide fires aren’t just headlines on the news. They’re locally-felt realities that have collapsed small businesses, shunted people out of pre-COVID-19 jobs, destroyed homes whole and sunk gaping wounds in the financial stability of families and individuals across the Palouse. Uncertainty looms in the foreseeable future for many very, very anxious people — who you may be one of.

The Food Not Bombs chapter in the Palouse is far from a lone wolf. Though the chapter started around two years ago, the greater entity of Food Not Bombs began in the ‘80s as a non-violent direct action group in response to growing awareness of food waste and is now active in hundreds of locations across the globe.

Topping the main Food Not Bombs webpage is a quote from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Besides the constant food recovery they do from stores, groups like Backyard Harvest provide potatoes, grapes, onions and all kinds of other produce. They plan and prepare things like soup, stews or jams from what they have. They see what kind of meals they have the ingredients for and release a menu on Saturday. They not only prepare on-site meals but care packages as well.

“Having a meal cooked and out of the way I think … frees up energy,” said Teja Sunku, active local member of Food Not Bombs. “Volunteering — I didn’t realize how much managing energy is important. I can’t imagine how it must be for people who are working two or three jobs. I think it’s the option more than the food itself that’s important.”

The Palouse chapter has served meals on the streets to the massive homeless population in Spokane. Initially serving around 250 people a week, that number has gone up to more like 450 per week due to the rise of COVID-19. This is not counting the relief they’ve been putting toward Malden and Pine City, both of which were devastated by the Babbs Road Fire. More and more people reach out every week for meals and deliveries.

“That’s 450 people who have been largely turned away by other health organizations,” said Olivia Sivula, co-founder of Food Not Bombs of the Palouse and active advocate of food security for nearly two years.

Sivula said members of Food Not Bombs went out to provide relief to fire-stricken areas where houses have become piles of rubble. A sizable amount of the population has had their whole lives yanked out from under them. As a largely and openly queer group, Sivula was a bit wary of what reactions Food Not Bombs would encounter at a town meeting in traditionally non-LGTBQ+ friendly Trump country. However, attendees were outraged by the lack of aid offered for their massive losses.

“The local government was outright disrespectful to the extent many [attendees] up and left,” Sivula said. “We didn’t see any Bundies out there. We didn’t see any Doug Wilsons, we didn’t see any f-cking Fox News crews offering their hands. Nor did we see the Biden-Harris campaign, or Rudy Soto, or any of that shit. There were just people who were really suffering, and they were alone.”

One community leader — Trump hat and all — eventually approached to ask who they were and where they were from.

“They looked us up and down — brown and long-haired, some of us queer — clearly folks had reservations,” Sivula said. “[We] say ‘Yeah. The government f-cking sucks. Do you need help rebuilding? We got hands, we got shovels, we got some grub over here.’ It was amazing the amount of not only handshakes but hugs we were receiving from people.”

It is vital to remember none of this is happening in some unreachable underground goblin cavern in Middle-Earth. It’s happening right in our backyard. If you want to count yourself a member of the Palouse community, then you can’t shy away from the extra-uncomfortable accountability words “we” or “us.”

We are suffering. Some of us are starving, struggling and trying to stay on our feet. To nudge those people out of your perception of “us” is to completely unravel the meaning of community.

“It’s not enough to say we’ve been feeding 450 people. It’s to say there are a lot of folks who wouldn’t be fed by the active organizations, that they would not be fed by what is considered the accessible food supply,” Sivula said. “The only questions we ask — ‘Where can we drop the food off to, do you have any health restrictions, is there a name we can call you?’”

Food Not Bombs does not set thresholds to measure someone’s need. If people know of others who could really use a resource like Food Not Bombs, or would like to help provide relief to the Palouse, the FNB Facebook page is here. People can find announcements for the meals being served every week on Sunday.