“If there are people right down the street from me who are in pain and are suffering, then it’s my suffering, too.”
(Rabbi Bonnie Sharfman)
Over the last four years, FOG has seen significant, positive results in its response to hunger. Our ongoing anti-hunger campaign and direct humanitarian support has allowed many of our impoverished guests to survive periods of extreme transition beyond their control. To date FOG has succeeded in feeding all who come to our tables. No one has ever been turned away. Our guests are made to feel welcome, needed, and valued. Above all, we strive to give our guests a sense of human dignity, community, and mutual trust. We share a healthy meal and create community. In doing so we hope to improve their quality of life.
FOG prides itself on being unique in its approach to feeding our community. Unlike larger feeding programs that serve a shifting number of folks, FOG aims to garner trust through ongoing personal contact and human empathy. We eat communally. We serve locally grown food. By example, we aim to change the attitude and eating habits of our guests and try to avoid unhealthy, readily-available fast food. We try to learn each individual’s name and something of their back story. If possible, we strive to offer advice and guidance in helping them to find additional resources. About 40% of our guests return on a regular basis. Of those, many are greeted by first names. Some return to ‘give back.’ They want to express their appreciation.
“We don’t know what tomorrow’s going to bring, so we’re doing it today. Helping people is our goal. We have so little but all of us feel as if we got 50 million in our hearts.”
(Paraphrasing Anthony Cody)
FOG is engaged in educating the public about food justice. Accordingly, FOG serves as a model template for grassroots organizations in other urban areas across the country. Interested in anti-hunger advocacy and setting up similar feeding programs in their respective local communities, youth groups from Portland, Oregon, Phoenix, Arizona, Santa Cruz, CA, and San Diego/Irvine, CA have been educated in food ministry and trained in how to feed the hungry in our midst.
FOG’s guests come from all socioeconomic, religious, and ethnic backgrounds. FOG serves all local folks in need without discrimination or prejudice. Our outdoor food tables are open to everyone. We serve the long-term impoverished and those who are suffering through a short term crisis (employment, housing, medical, etc.). These groups include the homeless, fixed-income seniors, the recently unemployed, the disabled, low income folks (including at-risk families with infants and toddlers), single parents, retired vets, immigrants, the mentally challenged, the socially isolated, and those facing the challenges of addiction.
A disproportionate number suffer from various health (including dental) issues because of their poor diet and the living conditions in neighborhoods where health resources are few and far between. FOG aims to correct this systemic injustice. Our ongoing humanitarian and emotional support has allowed many of our impoverished guests to survive periods of extreme transition and emotional turmoil. Every week they know they can count on a hot, nutritious, vegetarian meal accompanied by a large mixed salad and vegetables. Groceries available for guests to take include bread, vegetables, dairy products, and fruit. Our guests also know that they will be made to feel welcome as participants in a wider community.
Similar to Food Not Bombs, our program is dedicated to serving the under-privileged in our urban community. FOG believes that access to nutritious food is a fundamental human right. These usually “invisible” folks are generally not served by traditional feeding programs. In truth, we are told that they purposely avoid conventional feeding programs. They are used to eating and living outdoors with the ability to come and go as they wish.
FOG informally gives support to those trying to overcome social, cultural, and economic problems by providing ‘informal’ counseling, referrals to helpful agencies, and distributing literature on securing housing and obtaining medical care.
Monolingual seniors living in near-by ethnic communities have benefited from our multi-lingual translators who volunteer to listen and inform FOG about their immediate needs. About a third of our senior guests, speaking only Cantonese, come from Guangdong province in China. Although many have lived in Oakland for many years they speak little to no English. Living mostly on US government subsidies, many feel grateful to America, and, on a local scale, thankful to the ‘food of god’ and FOG’s feeding program.
FOG encourages interaction between its recipients in order to lessen neighborhood tensions, eliminating prejudice and discrimination. Many of our guests are willing help unload the cars, set the tables, and put out the produce. For the duration of the meal, FOG makes folks feel needed and appreciated.
We also provide an on-site interfaith chaplain who provides guidance to those who desire it. This on-going individual support has proved critical to many of our guests who are experiencing severe life challenges. We strive to give our guests a sense of human dignity, community and mutual trust.
FOG distributes shoes, warm clothing, gloves, socks, towels and blankets in the winter. On popular holidays gift bags are prepared for all our recipients. Our business community, local churches, and medical/dental offices donate much needed personal hygiene items. Every winter a local church (San Lorenzo Community Church) holds a ‘sock’ drive for our guests and these socks are readily received. Children and young adults also receive donated books and educational toys that FOG has collected from our local libraries.
FOG’s budget highlights both its success and greater financial needs.
Seventy-five per cent of FOG’s income goes directly to program-related expenses. All food shopping, preparation, serving, clean-up, etc. is done by volunteers. FOG’s director and the chaplain receive a small monthly stipend if funding is available. An elected board meets quarterly during the year to review and plan for the future. All board members engage in fundraising throughout Alameda County. New volunteers are actively recruited to join us to help prepare and serve the weekly meal we provide.