In 1980, the first Food Not Bombs group formed in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The group consisted of anti-nuclear activists who also wanted to help the homeless. They began recovering food destined for the dumpster and turned it into vegetarian and vegan meals for the homeless.
Since that time, the group has grown, with chapters appearing across the United States, South America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Australia. There is no formal leadership in the group and all work is done on a volunteer basis.
On January 7, 2017, the Tampa Bay chapter of Food Not Bombs made news when members were arrested for feeding the homeless at Lykes Gaslight Park. An article reporting on the incident noted:
“There were no altercations, no illicit substances, no bad behavior—unless you count that, according to the City of Tampa, that coffee and bagels were illegal.”
The article goes on to explain why the gathering was considered illegal:
“you have to have a special permit in order to offer free food to the needy in city parks. But obtaining a city permit to feed the homeless twice a week—to set up a table and open bags of chips and bagels and spoon organic beans and rice from a pot—can be pricey because of the insurance policy the city requires.
Given how often they do it (homeless people have to eat frequently, too), that can add up.”
The volunteers, rather than acquiescing to an unjust law, distributed the food and willingly accepted the punishment. While Food Not Bombs is not a religiously affiliated organization, they were doing Kingdom work, embracing the words of Martin Luther King Jr.:
“An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law”
Reading the Food Not Bombs story reminded me of something I read in Shane Claiborne’s “Jesus For President”. He notes in the book that there are places where homeless people are prohibited from salvaging food from dumpsters. Because we have determined that some people are not even deserving of our garbage.
These laws are antithetical to the teachings of the Gospel, the writings of the Old Testament, and the teachings of Jesus. Levitical laws mandates leaving gleanings for the hungry when harvesting crops. John the Baptist instructs his followers that “anyone who has two shirts should give one to the poor” (Luke 3:11) and Jesus’ parables are filled with instructions to serve the least of these.
I am reminded of the lunch counter sit ins and the freedom marches of the Civil Rights era, the work of men like Rep. John Lewis. They defied unreasonable laws that denigrated humanity in order to change the world for the better. They engaged in holy mischief, troubling the waters of oppression and complacency.
I also think of the illegal occupation of Apollo House in Dublin, Ireland. For the last few weeks, the organization Home Sweet Home has occupied an unused government building controlled by Ireland’s National Asset Management Agency. The activists are using the building to provide shelter to the homeless population of Dublin. When the occupation started, the group intended to provide shelter for all of Dublin’s homeless before Christmas. With the holiday past, they are continuing their struggle despite a government mandate to evict all residents of Apollo House on January 11th.
This is holy mischief. This is kingdom work.
We must do likewise when confronted with laws that are unjust. This is how we follow a condemned and crucified Savior.
For more information on Food Not Bombs visit:
For information on Home Sweet Home visit:
If you are looking for a practical project to help the homeless in your area, and you know how to crochet, consider making sleeping mats from plastic bags. The plastic bags are hygienic and insulate well against the cold. They are also ecologically friendly as they avoid waste. For instructions, check out: