Columbus Food Not Bombs provides fresh produce in Linden each Saturday

In 1979, Keith McHenry was a produce worker at the new Bread & Circus — since acquired by Whole Foods — in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When he took some leftover produce to a low-income neighborhood, the residents expressed concerns about alleged weapons construction at nearby Draper Laboratory, which today defines itself as “a research and development organization developing solutions to national problems in space, defense, biomedical and energy systems.”

Thinking about the hungry people on one side of the street and the lab on the other, McHenry and friend Brian Feigenbaum were inspired to start Food Not Bombs, a grassroots group of volunteers who provide food for the hungry and support nonviolent protests. Today, Food Not Bombs is a global network.

Robert Crane and Jordan Kloss currently help organize Columbus Food Not Bombs, which has been serving fresh produce to the Linden neighborhood each Saturday since October 2017.

“You could tell that it was a food desert,” said Kloss, who studied nutrition at Ohio State. “It's just corner stores and fast food restaurants.”

“A month or two after we got there, the Kroger at Northern Lights [Shopping Center] closed down, which just reinforced our drive to [stay] in that neighborhood,” Crane said.

Crane and Kloss obtain produce from a variety of sources, including grocery stores and distributors. They fill in the gaps left by larger organizations like Mid-Ohio Foodbank, which isn't able to prioritize small-scale distribution.

“They're not going to send a semi-truck to go pick up one skid,” Crane said. “One skid is 500 pounds of food. … I'll send someone with a truck or a car and we'll go pick it up.”

At least once per month, they'll also prepare a hot meal for a homeless shelter.

“We just have a community potluck picnic,” Crane said. “Anyone's welcome to attend and enjoy a meal with us. They don't necessarily need to bring anything.”

Per the global Food Not Bombs principles, they use vegan ingredients when possible because it accommodates the most people. “Minus individual food allergies, anyone can eat a vegan meal,” Crane said.

“A lot of times we're just using our leftovers from our Saturday serve,” Kloss said. “Usually it's a stew, or we'll make a casserole.”

Columbus Food Not Bombs has also prepared meals for fundraisers for Edith Espinal and Miriam Vargas, two immigrants living in sanctuary at Columbus Mennonite Church. And they've fed activists at trainings and conferences.

“It alleviates that need and that worriment so that they can then focus on what they're [doing],” Crane said.

That relief can go a long way for people who aren't certain where they will get their next meal. It's a stressor Crane knows all too well.

“I've been on that other side of that receiving line. I've been homeless,” he said. “I was that kid [whose] favorite part of going to school was acknowledging that they would eat that day. So that's a driver for me.”

By remaining independent, setting up on street corners and eliminating I.D. requirements, Columbus Food Not Bombs breaks down barriers between people and resources. And Crane and Kloss have been seeing results in small ways.

“One time a woman was getting food from us … and she said something along the lines of, ‘If you've got somebody who's the head of a household, and they're trying to figure out how to put food on the table, providing them with food might prevent them from doing something that they would regret later,'” Kloss said.

They've also seen people begin to help each other.

“We've had people who've come to our serve one week, and the next week come out and help pass it out,” Crane said.

And that's precisely what they want, because it facilitates engagement, trust and investment among neighbors.

“Once you know them, once you have names, then you make connections,” Crane said. “It's no longer just your plight. It's a combined plight, and you can group together to try to better yourself and your neighbors.”

Crane and Kloss recognize the larger, systemic issues that contribute to poverty and displacement in Columbus, but they wanted to at least play a role in fulfilling immediate needs.

“It felt like the most feasible thing and the most pragmatic thing,” Kloss said. “We could hold a sign and we could petition, but those [things] haven't done anything. I've seen Linden for six years now and … I've seen no changes.”