Food for All DC strives to provide food to low income home-bound residents in real need. Our clients are generally elderly citizens, handicapped or single mothers with young children. The operation is entirely volunteer operated with the assistance of public and private funding.
Ann Ingram comes to Food For All every Thursday to pick up food for Feed The Family, one of our community partners. She is a mere 89 years young, and still engages dynamically in the community. I asked her where the motivation comes from, and she joked, “When your daughter asks you to do something, you do it!”
Ann clarified that she has volunteered her entire life and was even a volunteer coordinator professionally. “I don’t know anyone who has never volunteered,” Ann mused. Ann has a broad definition of volunteering that encompasses all acts of kindness. One day a kind man helped Ann after she fell over in the street. “That is volunteering,” Ann declared. I asked Ann what she would say to someone contemplating volunteering, and she replied, “Try it! I think you will like it.”
Cathy and Hank have been volunteering weekly with FFA since May 2020. They recently shared their observations and experiences in this interview.
Food For All: What keeps you motivated to volunteer?
Cathy & Hank: The economic reverberations of the pandemic have created a wide spectrum of needs for so many people. Many families don’t generate enough income to cover all expenses. Moreover, Food For All makes it so easy to volunteer. Everything is well organized, and the food we deliver is healthy.
FFA: What is your approach to volunteering?
C & H: Every citizen deserves to be treated with dignity. The elderly, the disabled, and mothers with babies cannot stand in line at a food pantry. So, we take food to them. This is the dignified way.
It’s dismaying when we hear people blaming others for being poor. Circumstances at birth play a big part in determining people’s destiny. So much of where you go in life depends on where you begin. Those born into adverse conditions need support.
FFA: How do the clients respond?
C & H: The clients are extremely grateful. Some are waiting for the food and are relieved when we show up. If ever we are late, they call to make sure we are on the road.
Some clients look out for each other. One woman called us after a delivery to say she had shared some of the food with a neighbor. She did not want to take advantage of our support by taking more than she needed.
We met Elizabeth and her husband Denis last Spring. They’ve been a core part of our operation since. Elizabeth is a testament to hard work, determination an ability to adapt in difficult situations. We’re very proud of her and really glad that’s she’s part of the Food for All DC family.
Special thanks to Ludy Grandas from Humanities Truck for producing this wonderful video.
The beneficiary numbers are still increasing with over 3200 people served last week. We needed four trucks to get food to all the distribution sites.
Through Food Rescue DC, Food for All DC (FFA) is now receiving 6 pallets (240 boxes) a week of shelf stable groceries from the DC Government for at least another month. Along with the CFAP food, FFA is distributing 30 pallets of free food every week to many of our fifteen partners – most of which we deliver straight from the source – bypassing the church entirely!
The number of client calls is rising again, with an average of 50 calls a week since mid-September. Many new clients are hearing about FFA from friends and neighbors.
Driver numbers have been down slightly recently (although we did have enough last Saturday) and as usual the Saturday crew handled the daunting task with their usual professionalism and determination.
We got the following report from the staff of Bancroft Elementary School, who receive food from FFA through the coordination of Mount Pleasant Neighbors Helping Neighbors:
Many of our Bancroft families were able to receive food that otherwise they would not have been able to purchase. We have helped over 90 Bancroft families along with another 50 Mt. Pleasant families every Friday. It has also helped us maintain a close trusting relationship with our Bancroft families and the community at large. The overall impact that Food for All DC has had for the community is powerful and life changing. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, no one knew how long this pandemic was going to last and if there was any government relief in sight or available to the Bancroft community. Many of our families lost their jobs and were struggling to make ends meet. This food distribution helped families get to a place where they can offer food to their children.
This Thursday we welcome back a small team of folks from Industrious, the flexible workspace/office company to help us make up 150 grocery bags.
We will be launching an new appeal to individuals soon, and are applying for a number of foundation grants. We spent an average of $6000 a week in September (including the purchase of a new two-door commercial refrigerator as we attempt to avoid waste), and need to constantly look for new sources of funding.
We have new long-sleeved t-shirts and masks ordered! Look out for an update on this in the next few weeks.
Needless to say, September was Food for All DC’s (FFA’s) busiest month in our history with 78,000 lbs. of food provided to 3798 households (9382 people).
Farmers to Families Program
FFA is now a recipient of the federal Farmers to Families Box program, which is a mechanism to support farmers who lost customers in the restaurant and hotel sector. (It is also known as CFAP – Coronavirus Farmers Assistance Program)
Last Friday we received 800 box sets on 22 pallets, which included fresh produce, and dairy and meat items. As a result, we were able to provide a wide variety of food to our clients.
The food was delivered to FFA in a huge semi-trailer truck. The only way to transfer some of the pallets to the FFA truck was to commandeer a bus stop in front of UNMC on busy 16th St. during the rush hour. Take a look:
The resident services coordinator from Parkchester Apartments in Ward 8 contacted us for support for 30 food insecure residents. We will help them with weekly deliveries of CFAP food.
Guess what? We again broke the previous record! with 2282 people assisted during the week with 20,500 lbs. of food.
This week, we received an inaugural delivery of 300 20 lb. boxes of fresh produce from Coastal Sunbelt Produce, a vendor for the USDA’s farmers to families program (also known as CFAP – Coronavirus Food Assistance Program). The delivery came straight from Coastal at 8 am, although it was organized by CAFB.
The high quality produce was greatly appreciated by all. Ms. Gripper, our contact at the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA, called me yesterday to offer special thanks for the boxes we delivered on Friday. Ms. Gripper said, “The ladies’ eyes lit up when they opened the boxes. They were so happy just to see the color and freshness of the produce.”
I was heartened that people still get so excited about fresh produce. It is a sign that the junk food deserts have not had a lasting influence on people’s tastes.
The “Food Bank Friday” interview with ABC7 news went well, considering it started at 5:30 am! I was happy to have sounded somewhat coherent at such an early hour.
Diana Mata, a social worker at Bruce Monroe Elementary School, who has been referring parents to Food for All DC (FFA) since the beginning of the pandemic, felt moved to offer appreciation for the committed FFA volunteers. She wrote, “Your volunteers are beyond HEROES. Please thank all of them for us and on behalf of our families.”
Mark is leaving the Friday bagging team due to teaching commitments. He has been a stabilizing presence since the beginning of the pandemic, and will be missed. However, he will continue to help on Saturdays.
Lauren is joining FFA as a volunteer executive assistant. Tomorrow she will receive the incoming calls and assign clients to delivery days. Having experienced the efficiency of FFA’s Saturday delivery operations, she felt inspired to help with administrative tasks as well. Welcome, Lauren!
Reza has offered to help with grant applications. He will start with a $5000 application for a Walmart grant. Reza has been doing Friday deliveries to our Spanish-speaking clients for the past four months.
FFA gained two new partner sites during the week: Anacostia Gardens Apartments and Benning Heights Apartments, both in Ward 7. Given the pressing demands for food in general, FFA will provide each building with 20 bags a month initially.
Saturday at Food for All DC
32 drivers showed up on Saturday. Maybe they heard about Jana’s banana bread!
Ali, a long term volunteer, asked family and friends to donate to FFA to honor her birthday, raising $1700. Thank you for the noble gesture, Ali.
The first week of September was our busiest ever, with 2280 people served. To meet the need we had to rent three 16 ft. trucks for the first time, with Mikey joining us as the new driver.
We are still getting weekly produce from the Whole Foods distribution center at Landover, MD. Last week Food for All DC (FFA) received a pallet of organic chard.
On Friday afternoon, we received two back-to-back calls from respected elders aged 88 and 96. The 88-year old, Deloris, was a competitive weightlifter back in the day when few women entered such a sport. She said the only thing that has stopped her working out with clients since then is the pandemic. That conversation got me back into my exercise regimen!
Sacred Heart Church had a busy distribution last Friday, serving 180 families with the food provided by FFA. The church has a large congregation, which translates into many volunteer hands helping unload the trucks.
Saturday at FFA
The number of volunteer drivers coming on Saturday is consistent at around 30, which makes the 110 deliveries run smoothly.
Jana’s zucchini bread was so tasty that it was consumed before anyone could grab their smartphone!
Thursday and Friday at FFA
We have started doing more deliveries on Thursday and Friday to take pressure off the Saturday operation. On Friday, we are also delivering to people with special food needs, such as diabetics.
Nothing new to report this week. Donations are trickling in through Facebook, PayPal and GoFundMe. We are still looking for someone to help research and write grants.
The Capital Area Food Bank and ABC7 are organizing “Food Bank Fridays” to highlight the work of food pantries in the region. Food For All DC has been selected as the DC showcase. Our interviews tool take place Friday Sept 11 at various times between 5:30 and 8 am.
This past week, Food for All DC (FFA) once again set new records. We received 25,300 pounds of food and served 2206 people in 903 households.
The volume of client and social worker calls dramatically increased from 40 to 68. Maybe the loss of the unemployment bonus is having an effect on people.
We gained two new partners this week. Food Not Bombs has been working with FFA for several years, and we simply formalized the partnership. We provided 25 grocery bags to Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) United, a national organization working to raise wages and improve the working conditions of 13 million restaurant workers.
Through Food Rescue DC, we “rescued” three pallets of organic cauliflower from Whole Foods. That translated into 1620 cauliflower being distributed throughout DC. We heard that recipients were sharing cauliflower soup recipes in the Woodner distribution site!
Passion City Church (PPC) is no longer able to provide volunteer drivers for emergency weekday and weekend deliveries. We applaud PCC for supporting over 270 food-insecure households since the beginning of the pandemic. In the early days, when there were more emergency needs, PCC’s support was invaluable. PCC will continue to assist FFA in other ways.
30 drivers came to FFA last Saturday for 110 deliveries. Jana brought blueberry bread for the site coordinators, another baked delight.
Interview by Peter Sage with Mr. Jonathan W. Hutto, Sr. from Empower DC
Peter – How do you make a difference through Empower DC?
Jonathan – Empower DC is an advocacy organization that builds power among those most directly impacted by inequality. We work with front-line communities bearing the brunt of crises and trauma. We enter a community to learn, support and potentially to help build local leadership if desired by the people. When the people build organization, they are in a better position to influence and possibly wield power to affect progressive change.
Through Empower DC, for example, the Ivy City neighborhood has built a solid core of 15-20 people who have formed a permanent organization known as “The Friends of Crummell” which meets on a regular basis to carry out Political Advocacy and Social Support programs for the community
Peter – What are the core issues?
Jonathan – Housing as a Human Right for all Human Beings is the basis of our advocacy. Gentrification, due to DC being Ground Zero within the United States for the forced Exodus of Indigenous Black Citizens due to rising Housing costs over the last decade, is our major core issue. Sadly and disgracefully there is a national agenda to eliminate public housing which is the most affordable housing currently for the marginalized in DC. As it stands, the DC Housing Authority plans to reposition and/or remove up to 24,000 units of Public Housing which would mean displacement, loss of housing and loss of Tenants Rights. A recent PBS Ken Burns documentary titled “East Lake Meadows” documents the struggle of Public Housing residents in Atlanta, GA (where Public Housing was totally eliminated by 2011) which is a microcosm of the current struggle we’re engaged in.
Our Organization is deeply engaged in the Right to Return Struggle for displaced Barry Farm residents along with organizing alongside Public Housing residents in Park Morton and Greenleaf Gardens. The Movement for Racial Equity being codified within DC Law is also a work we’ve championed and advocated for.
Peter – How did you become a Community Organizer?
Jonathan – My formative years took place in Southwest Atlanta GA, both of my parents were born and reared in the segregated South. My Mother was primarily responsible for my early political and social education. She taught me about both the historical and enduring impact of racism upon our lives. I felt relatively secure within our all Black communities although the Black Working Class is not a Utopia. However, that feeling was shattered when at the age of nine in early 1987, I witnessed the late Rev. Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) lead 90 Black demonstrators into all White Forsyth County GA thirty miles outside of my hometown. The purpose of the march was for Integration and celebrating the King Holiday. The 90 demonstrators were met with the chant of “Niggers Go Home.”
I became an Undergraduate student leader and organizer at Howard University in the mid to late 1990’s advocating for Student Rights while simultaneously supporting the Black Working Class communities adjacent to the university at that time. The late Lawrence Guyot, Chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) during the 1960’s and Civic Leaders within LeDroit Park at that time (there’s a street named for him in that neighborhood today), trained me in the art of street organizing and effective strategies to help people build power no matter where they reside in life. I paid tribute to Guyot upon his passing nearly 8 years ago.
Jonathan – COVID-19 has greatly exacerbated the existing challenges our constituency was already battling and struggling through everyday. This crisis has laid bare the sinister nature of Racism and Class Stratification within this society.
Peter – How do you use the food provided by Food For All DC?
Jonathan – Currently we’re supporting 50 plus families weekly within the Ivy City neighborhood with groceries from Food For All along with fresh produce from our partners Dreaming Out Loud. We’re also supporting 25 plus families weekly in the Greenleaf Gardens Senior Building in SW DC with fresh produce from our partners Owl’s Nest.
In order for our people to ultimately thrive and strive, we have to first survive this crisis. Therefore organizationally, in the spirit of what the Black Panther Party for Self Defense did a generation ago, we have pivoted towards Mutual Aid support in this critical hour for our people.
As the late Kwame Ture taught us in our early youth, “The Struggle is Eternal. Therefore there is no time for us to simply kick back, relax and enjoy life. To think this way is reactionary thinking of the worst order. Simply because the more you Struggle the more you know, the more you know the more you can do and your people are going to need you to do until you die. Therefore if one understands this they prepare themselves for ETERNAL STRUGGLE.”
Jonathan gives Special Thanks to his Executive Director Parisa Norouzi for her vision along with Front-line Empower DC Members Sebrena Rhodes of Ivy City, Berlin Dean of Trinidad and Shana Potter of the Greenleaf Senior Building. He can be reached at email@example.com
Peter – What inspired you to join a religious order?
I am a big family man, so I thought a religious order would be best for me. Proverbs 27:17 states: “Iron sharpens iron; one man sharpens another.” I knew that by living with other brothers I would be challenged by my brothers to grow in holiness. I joined the Capuchin Franciscans, embracing the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. I wanted to embrace a simple life so I could better work with and serve those living in poverty.
Brother Mike – When I was a college student, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. At one point I thought, “God created me, so God knows me better than I know myself, so let me ask God.” I started to pray daily and got the message to become a Catholic priest, which was not my idea of happiness at the time! I had thought about becoming a teacher or a counselor or a social worker. However, as a priest I realized I could be all of those at once.
Peter – How does prayer fit into your life now?
Brother Mike – I am enjoying prayer life now. I am an extrovert and like to be busy and prayer helps find balance. I start and end my day in prayer. I take inspiration from Christ who went out to pray before performing miracles. Christ used prayer to seek guidance from God. God is also calling me to begin with prayer, to seek God’s will before engaging in action.What motivates you to serve others? I have experienced how the Catholic Church cares for people holistically, addressing people’s needs from the spiritual to the worldly. My role this summer has especially been to help people with their physical needs. My work in the world becomes a prayer itself. Therefore, I express prayer both in the prayer space and in the worldly space.
Peter – How do you distribute the food you receive from Food For All?
Brother Mike – Sacred Heart Church serves a number of communities in the Washington area, including the Salvadorian, the Vietnamese, the Haitian and the Brazilian communities. As a result, we have nine masses over the weekend in different languages. We distribute food after eight of the masses to people we have identified as food-insecure. We also provide cooked food for 75 people Monday through Friday, many of whom are homeless.
Peter – Is there anything you would like to add?
Brother Mike – I am impressed by the mentality of many of the food recipients. In the midst of their poverty, they are not greedy, taking whatever they can for themselves. Rather, they are aware of the needs of others and want to make sure the food is properly shared. They are community-minded.
In Brother Mike’s words: This photo was taken at a Catholic Conference in Phoenix. It was in the midst of a tent city. The woman there helping me is homeless and she noticed the pigeon struggling and together we freed it from being all tangled in string. It was a powerful moment for me. What a metaphor, a woman imprisoned in her suffering from homelessness notices a pigeon imprisoned in string. She desired to free the bird from its suffering, as I am sure she desired to be freed from her suffering on the street.