We started as a group of friends and neighbors joining each week to feed houseless Santa Cruz residents at Ross Camp, a tent camp located just off the intersection of Highway 1 and River st. It was a cold, rainy winter, and every time I drove by the camp I wanted to do something to help, but wasn't sure what to do. A friend on Facebook detailed how he was delivering some warm soup to houseless campers in Oakland, and I thought, "Hey, we could do that!" So in February my family and I made 27 boxes of pretty awesome mac-n-cheese, and fed about 75 people. Afterwards we said, "Hey, we could do that again!"
I posted on social media, and soon we had more volunteers, and a few donations!
The next week was a pretty amazing team effort, with 6 new volunteers, plus our original 3. I think about 120 people got a warm meal, there were many happy faces, and people came back for seconds.
The third week we were 15 volunteers, and we fed about 120 people spaghetti, meat sauce, veggie sauce, bread, broccoli, squash, oranges, candy, and water. Soon we were joined by the UCSC Care Club, who helped to set up, serve, and clean up! We now have over 30 volunteers. This spring and summer we served more than 800 meals.
Why this matters: Although there are places in Santa Cruz offering warm meals, many houseless people have significantly disabling conditions, and can't travel far. Bringing food to them is both humane, and validating-validating because we are showing that they are part of our community. We see them. We see their needs. They are our neighbors.
Second-Most people here receive food stamps, which does not allow them to purchase warm food. Unbelievable, right? But true. We all know how our bodies crave warm food and beverages when we're out in the cold.
Last-Heating and cooking food in tents is very dangerous. Just last year there was a tent fire due to cooking. So, by providing some warm food once a week, we are helping to lower that risk.
A huge thank you to the folks who helped, both by cooking food, serving, and the folks at the camp who helped us set up, tear down, and brought food to people who couldn't stand in line.
If you want to help by donating here, please do! The first week cost us about $110, the following weeks about $250 (estimated because many volunteers bought their own ingredients). I suspect our costs will be about the same as we go forward. We use compostable and bio-degradable boxes, cutlery, and bags, and we recycle and reuse.
We typically offer 2-3 main dishes, salad or veggies, fruit, water, and a sweet. We also coordinate donations of hygiene supplies, clothes, camping gear, and Narcan.
We would love to be able to keep doing this weekly. Your support is crucial-we are managing to break even each week, but many of our volunteers only have their time to donate, no extra funds. Each and every dollar donated goes to serving nutritious and yummy food.
We are now on summer break. We are taking this time to apply for fiscal sponsorship, recruit board members in preparation for filing as a 501c3, and start our collaboration with The Food Recovery Network. We will restart for inclement weather in the fall.
As we have learned the needs of our homeless population, we have met and spoken with organizations and groups doing similar work across California, Oregon, Washington, and Canada. This regional humanitarian crisis is being met by a very diverse, and disparate population. From churches to punk rock bands, from college students to retired military, people from all walks of life are helping however they can.
But until now they have had no way to network, share resources, or address internal issues like burnout. We propose to network NGOs in both countries through social and digital platforms, a yearly North American conference, and regional workshops. Our fundraising for this project will be earmarked donations only.
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*Photos by Altaira or Camille Hatton. Contact for permissions.
**Photos by Autumn Sun, Santa Cruz, CA. Contact for permissions.
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