Before he got to open the envelope himself, Food Not Bombs (FNB) co-founder Keith McHenry received a call from a local media organization requesting a comment on the city’s most recent cease and desist letter issued to the organization.
“I barely had time to reflect on the letter when [the reporter] called me,” said McHenry describing the wild morning of Feb. 17.
This is the latest in a long and storied saga of conflict between FNB and the City of Santa Cruz. Since their removal from the parking lot on the corner of Front and Laurel Street on Mar. 1, 2021, FNB was served a cease and desist notice on Feb. 17 from the City of Santa Cruz to vacate the town clock where they have most recently been serving food.
Food Not Bombs told to move from Lot 27 to Lot 23 by the City
Food Not Bombs removed from Lot 23 due to construction, and subsequently Lot 27 on Front and Laurel Street
Faced with the possibility of being forced to move again, the community aid group pivots as frustrations mount for volunteers and cooks such as FNB Monday chef Chad Greer.
“The worst-off members of society are important,” insisted Greer. “It’s hard to […] see a huge portion of our community living in tents and not having enough to eat and not having any mental services or safety to live a free life.”
Greer is one of the professional chefs in the kitchen with volunteers cooking meals, but even he admits that the contributions aren’t enough. FNB’s mission is to provide free vegetarian and vegan meals, as they view giving food as an unregulatable act of kindness. The estimated 50-400 meals FNB provides daily are essential to filling in the gaps where the City and other service providers are not coming through.
Greer isn’t the only one who thinks services available aren’t adequate. A 2020 grand jury report diagnoses fund misuse as one of Santa Cruz’s five major stumbling blocks to addressing houselessness.
Houseless advocates are concerned by the city’s lack of collaboration with community groups and management issues at both the 1220 River St. transitional camp and the Benchlands.
FNB has also been informed, as of Feb. 17, that they will no longer be able to use their cooking space at Calvary Episcopal Church. The decision comes after already having this residency contested by the City, who was concerned over permitting.
Since the start of COVID-19, the church has rented out their kitchen to FNB in absence of their usual outreach ministry. Now, the church is planning to restart their outreach ministry and will need the kitchen space back.
Calvary gave them a 60-day notice on Feb. 17, rather than the traditional 30-day notice, to ensure FNB would have enough time to find a new kitchen space. Their move-out date is April 18 by the end of the day.
“It’s good to have them there,” Reverend Dr. Austin Leininger said. “We’re really glad that our kitchen is being used, and we’re really glad that it’s being used to feed hungry and homeless people. As far as tenants, they’ve paid their rent on time.”
The church looks forward to being able to start up their outreach ministries soon, but as for FNB, this is just another challenge they will have to adapt to.
FNB is operating at a scale which the City finds problematic, which may give both FNB and Santa Cruz officials some common ground. Both would agree, as FNB volunteer Emma Safo explains, that there needs to be a difference in scale. The current status quo isn’t working for either side.
“What I really hope happens, is that other meal services and other organizations can restart doing their services that they were providing before the pandemic and that Food Not Bombs doesn’t necessarily have to feed every single day seven days a week,” Safo said. “I hope that we can scale back to fewer days, and spread the love of giving food with other organizations.”