News item: Police called in the bomb squad Monday afternoon in Bushnell Park to inspect a package that originally was described as suspicious and turned out to be harmless.
We live in strange times.
The suspicious package on June 11 was actually an empty cardboard box, with the words “Hartford Food Not Bombs” written on it with a marker, along with a cartoon picture of a cupcake. The box was left from the day before, when volunteers who have distributed free vegan food in the park every week for 13 years left behind one box of meals for late-comers.
It’s what they’ve always done. Everyone in the park knows them, and the irony of the police getting involved – or of anyone thinking the nonviolent Hartford Food Not Bombs organization would distribute bombs and not food – is not lost on the volunteers, many of them veterans of multiple protests who have decided they need to do more than march.
“I used to go to protests, and I still do sometimes,” said volunteer Dave Rozza. “I see protests more as a morale booster now. You can march all you want, and that’s good, but the powers that be aren’t listening.” And so he cooks food for the hungry.
This past Sunday, FNB volunteers gathered again at the Charter Oak Cultural Center – Hartford’s epicenter of cool – to prepare meals to hand out at the park and to assemble grocery bags to distribute at the center’s door.
Sometimes the people to whom they give the park meals don’t show up precisely for the 3 p.m. distribution time, and so the group has taken to leaving a box full of meals behind. It was a box like that – emptied by the people in the park – that caught the eye of whoever called the police.
Sunday, as Rozza talked about the group, volunteer Kelsey Larsen of West Hartford slipped papers (in Spanish) into the bags explaining that Food Not Bombs is a volunteer organization dedicated to nonviolence and sharing vegan (easier on the planet) food with the hungry and people abandoned by the rest of society.
Meanwhile, eight people – including longtime volunteer Ken Tong of West Hartford – gathered in the kitchen making salad and roasted potatoes. Tong said people in the park know the group and have come to expect them.
Food Not Bombs started in 1980 in Cambridge, Mass., and has spread around the world. It’s an all-volunteer organization dedicated to nonviolence that somehow has still attracted the interest of federal intelligence agencies. The organization often has been among the first to provide hot meals after disasters like the California earthquakes, Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York.
Locally, food comes from places like Garden of Light Natural Food Market and Whole Foods Market. Say what you want about that last pricey shop (who some refer to as Whole Paycheck, because that’s what it takes to shop there) – at least they consistently contribute.
Because there are so many hungry people in Hartford, about two years ago, Food Not Bombs started distributing food on Saturdays as well. Volunteers had to stop Saturday distributions for a while because of a lack of helpers – there are maybe 60 altogether – but word got around, and the group will start up again next month for twice-a-week meals.
Rabbi Donna Berman, Charter Oak’s executive director, said the group has been using her facility to prepare food for about three years. She said bar and bat mitzvah students and their families have volunteered with FNB, as well as participants in the center’s “Learning To Repair the World” program, which brings together Jewish, Muslim, and Christian students. It’s a great laboratory for teaching, Berman said.
This Sunday, a half-hour before bags of bread, leafy greens and cereal would be handed out at the door, five people already were lined up waiting.
This is an important service, said a woman dressed in a Mets T-shirt. Without it, her family would be struggling.
Later, in the park, there were no leftovers, and so no scary boxes were left behind.
Last year, one of my students volunteered for this group, and it made a positive impression on her. While other students chose community service that was more routine, she risked being associated with a non-church organization, whose volunteers don’t always appear clean-cut and wholesome. I don’t know if she still helps at all, but I hope she read this and got a laugh from it.