by Danny Zanbilowicz
Food Not Bombs was founded in 1980 in Cambridge, Massachusetts by anti-nuclear activists. Members have provided free good food over the years at many antiglobalization, anti-poverty, and anti-war events including Occupy Wall Street. It is a loose network of hundreds of chapters around the world.
Ernie Yacub has been involved locally with FNB from the beginning. He says- “It started here about ten years ago, outdoors in front of the court house for a couple of years, in the basement of St. George’s Church for a year or so, over to Lush Valley in 2011 and then back to the Church kitchen two years ago.”
Food Not Bombs fills a gap in free meals provided during the week. Monday to Friday there’s the soup kitchen at St. George’s, while on Saturdays there is food at the Foursquare Church. FNB does its thing every Sunday.
Ernie says “During the week the Church gets a hundred to a hundred and fifty people a day, we get thirty to sixty. A lot of people are going hungry on Sundays- there’s less transportation and it takes more effort. People from outside the downtown core come on weekdays, not Sundays. During the week there are other things to do- services or the library.”
So what’s on the menu?
There’s soup and coffee from 2-3 pm, then the main meal from 3-4 pm, which consists of a meat main dish, veggies side dish, bread pudding, soup and dessert. Ernie says- “We provide a casserole, a stew, lasagna, spaghetti, a main hearty meal.”
The parent organization makes a point of offering only vegan or vegetarian food, but they also make a point of allowing local groups to make their own decisions.
Ernie usually cooks the main dish. Most of the meat is donated- “The church gets meat donations. Whatever they have extra, they pass on to me.”
But often someone else will provide- “I now have two women who brought lasagnas, once a month. Anyone can do this- you don’t have to bring a huge dish.” Also- “We get donations of veggies in the summer from Edible Island- a box or two of veggies they can’t sell, and what we don’t use, we leave for people to take with them. The Village Bakery in Cumberland and Vassilli’s provide bread for the bread pudding. We can make use of pretty much anything.”
Everyone loves dessert – “I make bread pudding every Sunday. There’s lots of bread around, and it’s a good way to work in eggs. Desserts are welcome- lemon squares, brownies, muffins.”
For a decade, Ernie has been volunteering his time every week- “Sunday for me is an eight hour day. Friday and Saturday are six to eight hours cooking and prep.”
The reward consists of making a difference- “I see people who are in dire straits, cold and wet, dirty, with no way to get clean. Some have lost clothes, ripped off, no coats. I don’t pry into their lives. I see lots of new people and lots disappear. These are hungry people who want food. A few are very regular. Several have been coming for years, like a fellow from Maple Pool.”
If you want to help, “You can provide a dish- once, weekly, monthly or whatever. Money to help buy supplies. And clean upcome at 3 pm, help serve. Call me at 338- 3504, or email- email@example.com.”
“Food Not Bombs is a loose-knit group of independent collectives, serving free vegan and vegetarian food to others. Food Not Bombs’ ideology is that myriad corporate and government priorities are skewed to allow hunger to persist in the midst of abundance. To demonstrate this (and to reduce costs), a large amount of the food served by the group is surplus food from grocery stores, bakeries and markets that would otherwise go to waste. This group exhibits a form of franchise activism. The central beliefs of the group are:
-Always vegan or vegetarian and free to everyone.
-Each chapter is independent and autonomous and makes decisions using the consensus process.
-Food Not Bombs is dedicated to nonviolence.
-Food Not Bombs works to call attention to poverty and homelessness in society by sharing food in public places and facilitating community gatherings of hungry people.
Anyone who wants to cook may cook, and anyone who wants to eat may eat. Food Not Bombs strives to include everyone.”
Who shows up?
When the Island WORD was there recently, there were about 65% men and 35% women ranging in age it seemed from early twenties to people in their sixties or older.
Here is one man’s story.
Doug (name changed) grew up in Edmonton, and lived in Grand Prairie Alberta, and Powell River BC for six years with his wife.
He bought a house in Alberta in 2006 and worked until 2012 as a drywall installer. Before that he was a Corrections Officer at the Edmonton Remand Centre for almost eight years.
In 2010 Doug was diagnosed with colitis- “Six months later they took out my colon and part of the large intestine.”
The disease made it almost impossible for him to eat properly, which meant he didn’t have the energy to do the very hard work of drywalling.
He says- “The bills kept piling up, the car payments. Eventually, I took a whole bottle of anti- depressants- was in a coma for ten days.”
He survived, but his serious disease continued to affect his health. “I moved back here, and got treatment. I was hospitalized seven times in the past year, lasting from a week to a month. Over the last six months, half the time I was bedridden in the hospital. I couldn’t eat. They put in a PICC line. They tried a new drug- Remicade- it didn’t work. They are working on a possible cure for Krohns.”
As if that wasn’t enough, in 2011 Doug was diagnosed with cancer of the bowel: “The cancer came back twice already. It is in remission now.”
He admits “I’m not taking my meds. It’s a sad story. I’m on disability from the cancer and the Krohn’s. I try and pick up some work when I’m feeling good. I always worked, had a great job. Only when I got sick did I get depressed. I never done drugs in my life, though I used to be a binge drinker when I played hockey. I drink lots now, have basically given up on myself. I saw a psychiatrist. She said I could beat it. I was always healthy and athletic. My biggest problem now is that I’ve just given up. There are not a lot of resources for people like me. I fell through the cracks.”
Doug says “I’m working two to three days a week now in construction. Been doing it for two and a half months. It’s been a stressful couple of years. I’ve been in hospital so many times, I’ve seen people worse off than me.”
He takes a sip from his cup. “I’m starting to get along with my daughter in Nova Scotia. She is seventeen and wants to live with her dad when she’s eighteen.”
Doug’s eyes well up, as he rises from the table, his face softened by intense feeling- the sadness of his past and present, hope for the future.
Dylan Coates has seen Food Not bombs from both sides now, as someone who came for meals, and as a regular volunteer.
He says- “I was homeless for two and a half years in Montreal, and two here.”
Asked what led to his being homeless, Dylan says- “I have no addictions or alcohol issues. I had to get out of my mom’s influence.”
He arrived here four years ago, and after a year became homeless.
“When I went to the shelter, they give you up to three months to find a job and housing, or you get shipped up to the Campbell River shelter, where you have three months again before being sent back down to Courtenay.”
Dylan said this does not help people get their act together and achieve a stable life. He believes that- “The system keeps you where you are. There are not the services available to help you get the step up, to help you rise above.”
Dylan remembers when meals used to be served at Lush Valley when that organization had its own facility, close to the Salvation Army shelter.
As for the current location- “This is very relaxed and easy going. There are no confrontations. There is more flexibility- it was a bit cramped at Lush. There is none of the ruckus or loudness of the soup kitchen. It’s more like a lounge, welcoming. If you get here early or late, you don’t feel threatened or rushed, there’s no anxiety. They put out a really good spread- meat loaf and mashed potatoes for example.
It’s unexpected quality- not hot dogs all the time. You look forward to it – there’s as much coffee as you want.”
How did Dylan find out about Food Not Bombs?
“I met a woman named Olivia at the library. We started conversing and I learned she was volunteering here. I started helping out. I saw I might collect cups from outside, pick up chairs and stack them. It’s different at the soup kitchen- that’s their job. They don’t want you to participate with them. Olivia was Ernie’s main assistant.
When she couldn’t do it anymore, from March of last year I replaced her.”
What’s the routine? “I come in at 1:30 pm, put out coffee cups, the Edible Island donated food- fruit and veggies. I bring Tupperware from downstairs, start making coffee, cut up melons, arrange chairs and tables, and help Ernie set up the cutlery and plates. Then I help serve, and do the dishes and clean up.”
Dylan adds: “I feel like I’ve done a whole circle- from giving to receiving to giving back again. A person is more understanding when you are in this situation. I like the fact that I don’t have prejudices or judgments about the homeless and handicapped because of my experience. I also like the ethics of FNB. This is the food I would feed my own family. Fresh food. Helping people live longterm. Good nutrition helps the mind work properly.”
Free good food, Sundays, 2-4 pm St. George`s Church, 505 6th St. Courtenay. To get involved, call
Ernie at 250-338-3504, or email- firstname.lastname@example.org.