Last Sunday afternoon, I went to a community meal hosted by our local chapter of Food Not Bombs and NJ Sisterhood.
Food Not Bombs is a great group of loosely affiliated collectives with chapters throughout the country. It’s non-hierarchical (there is no leader or board), and very de-centralized, both in the way the organization is run and how their philosophy takes shape in their actions. Basically, the way it works is that a group of people come together every week and make home-cooked vegetarian meals that they offer for free to the community. If you’re hungry, you’re invited to eat. You don’t have to be poor or homeless (although many who come to the meals are); you just show up, get a plate of hot food, and are invited to stay or go as you like. Nobody will question you or judge you, and the people serving you will most likely join in and share in the food as well. Just come and join the community meal.
I spoke with Mike McLean from the JC FNB, and he had this great statement that he emailed me. I think it sums up their philosophy well:
Food Not Bombs is a unique group in Jersey City. Almost every Sunday a group of volunteers gather at Journal Square to share food with anyone who in hungry. Our sharing events are public calls for more a life-affirming community: cooperation not competition, life not death, food not bombs. If you come to a Food Not Bombs sharing event at Journal Square, you will see your city, your food, and your potential to change the world in radically different ways.While Food Not Bombs shares hundreds of free, healthy meals with the homeless each month, our efforts at Journal Square are unlike any of Jersey City’s typical ‘homeless outreach’ initiatives. [We] seeks to humanize the homeless. We share without restriction, with no questions about documents, jobs, or assistance entitlements. We don’t serve food; we share food. We meet people where they are. We make conversation. We make friends. The homeless are not clients or ‘needy’ recipients of aid; they are members of our community with the same claim to human dignity as anyone else. Food Not Bombs does not engage in charity, the simple idea that those who have need to give to those who don’t. We are instead building a community based on solidarity, the notion that we are in this together, that sharing helps all of us, that alternatives ways of organizing society need to be pursued urgently.
NJ Sisterhood is a local organization committed to encouraging young women to do community outreach and to help “build a sisterhood.” Many of the members are Muslim, although it is not an exclusively Muslim organization. Together, the two groups are out there week after week, sharing food.
It was bitterly cold on the Sunday I visited the group, and they were serving their meal in JSQ, as they do every Sunday at noon. Volunteers showed up and set up folding tables and served between 30-40 people. It was a really moving experience – many of the people there were regulars and were greeted by first name, sometimes with a hug. Overall the mood was jovial and warm, like old friends coming together. Despite the 30 degree temps with high wind, people lingered and talked.
It was quite honestly fun – JSQ isn’t the most welcoming place these days, and places to sit are limited. But even up against these constraints, it was a really lovely Sunday afternoon. I left feeling like I had just spent my time around some of the very best people in Jersey City.
Connect with JC Food Not Bombs and NJ Sisterhood via Facebook. FNB lists what they’re looking for in contributions every week on their page, and maybe you’ll be inspired to turn up and join in on a meal. You can cook, help serve, or just come to eat. The food sometimes goes fast, so best to arrive at noon, sharp.