Fuck Hunger: A How-To Guide to Feeding Homeless People in Your City
The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion. —Paulo Coelho
Dozens of black, mostly queer folk cooked and delivered Christmas dinner to 75 homeless people throughout Washington, D.C. last weekend. The effort wasn’t associated with an organization or sponsored by a corporation.
In this article, I’ll talk about the experience as well as show you how to organize a similar event for homeless people in your city.
I first proposed the idea in a Facebook post, where I asked friends whether they’d be interested in donating food to homeless people this holiday season. After receiving an overwhelming number of positive responses, I organized an event via Facebook.
The effort couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. More than half a million people are homeless. “In a single night in January 2015, 564,709 people were experiencing homelessness — meaning they were sleeping outside or in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program.”
Being homeless sucks. But being homeless is worst in some parts of the country than in others. Earlier this month, Denver police confiscated blankets and sleeping bags from homeless people sleeping outside in below-freezing temperatures, citing an urban camping ban.
Our nation’s capitol also struggles with homelessness. While every other part of the region has seen a double-digit decrease, Washington, D.C. has seen a 14 percent increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness. What’s worse, homelessness among D.C. families rose 32 percent within the last year.
And we can’t forget about DC’s rapid gentrification.
It’s also worth mentioning that Black people make up about 40 percent of the total U.S. homeless population, though are only 12.5 percent of the overall population. That’s what made organizing a group of black folk against hunger that much more rewarding.
After posting the idea on my Facebook, I asked a few friends to pitch in and help buy the food.
About forty people from around the country donated more than $1,000 online (and in-person) to support the initiative. I used Generosity by Indiegogo as the fundraising platform since it’s free other than the small processing fee (3% + 30 cents on every donation).
Our initial goal was $500. But people continued to donate up until the day of the event. The campaign did so well, that we had money left over. We used the extra money to purchase gift cards to hand out to people in need.
Buying Food and Supplies
With the money, we bought two 12-pound honey-glazed hams, two whole-sized turkey breasts; along with 12 green bean casserole & 12 sweet potato soufflé ‘heat and serve side dishes’ ($400). We bought most of the food at Honey Baked Ham. (The store also gave us a turkey breast free-of-charge).
We also purchased about 150 takeout boxes and 250 utensil sleeves from a local Restaurant Depot store ($75). The takeout boxes were a simple plastic container divided into three sections with a clear lid. A utensil sleeve included a knife, a fork, a spoon, one napkin, and salt & pepper packets.
We also bought about 75 dinner rolls and 90 bottles of water from a local grocery store ($35).
To keep the dinners warm between transits, we purchased four insulated restaurant-styled food delivery bags from Amazon ($115).
There might be cheaper options, but we wanted to make sure the food kept warm, especially in colder weather. It was about 30 degrees that day. I suggest not going cheap if you plan to organize this in the winter.
Preparing & Delivering the Meals
About 30 of us met at a friend’s home to prepare and package the meals. About three or four folk prepared the food while the rest of us packaged. For packaging, we used a simple assembly-line method that seemed to work pretty well.
The roles were organized among us into three parts: cook, package, deliver. A Google doc helped keep that loosely sorted. Have folk enter their name, email, and phone number just in case you need to reach them before or during the event.
We used our own vehicles to then deliver the dinners to homeless people in five pre-determined locations throughout the city: Union Station, Verizon Center, McPherson Square, Metro Center, and the CCNV Homeless Shelter.
Be sure to jot down a list of places to where you want to deliver the dinners a few days beforehand. It also helped to have folk who are native to the city ride with us. They knew the areas where homeless people visited.
After we returned from delivering the meals, the group engaged in a short conversation to debrief. We talked about the experience, the people we met, and what it meant to us. This is one of the more important parts of the experience, I think.
There was a lot to unpack. I suggest having a a couple facilitators ask the hard questions to get people to talk about how they felt during the experience.
Feeding people who experience homelessness doesn’t solve the problem of homelessness. Homeless people need homes. We can provide some cushion for folk, though, while we all figure it out — together.
Henry, a DC native experiencing homelessness, said to me, “the most important thing you did tonight, Brandon, was see me.”
I hope Henry’s words speak to you the way they spoke to me. Thanks for the people who supported this effort and gave me the opportunity to “see” Henry. If you have ideas on ways to make the event better, enter them in the comments.