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Indybay Feature
The significance of the kid
by kelly borkert
Fresno Food Not Bombs salutes 26 years of Saturday servers.
January 8th, 2022, arrived on schedule. Somewhere in the middle of it, a kid did, as well.
Maybe young man, young adult, or just a person would be more appropriate. I can only think kid.
Fully formed, I should add, this kid* sprang forth upon us with a scooter, stopping for some food as we were finishing up a serving.
Right there, in Roeding Park, in the "Parkside" area of Fresno, right around Olive and 99.

On the eve of the 26th anniversary of Newt Gingrich's well inspired weekly meal serving at Roeding Park**
I saw my own inspiring reminder (in fact several, mostly not unusually/and usually took for grantedly, but this..)
of what was initially fascinating about the weekly Saturday Food Not Bombs serving at Roeding Park, from my very first visit.

That being the presence and participation of kids and their parents or grandparents. Whether in line for food regularly, or participating in the serving for years on end.
So many of those young Food Not Bombs veterans grew up before my eyes in the space of 10 or 15 years. Watching fledglings hit their college years and bloom like flowers.
What a great privilege to witness these lives unfold and their achievements are many and extraordinary. Huge potatoes. Wonderfully seasoned.

The vigor of youth, the hunger. Not just for food, but community service (not the punitive kind, mind you) and a better world. Quietly demonstrating their innate compassion,
teaching as many lessons as they might learn, with more patience than you can find in many adults.
I like to call it the sweet and savory flavor of child labor.
An important thing to commemorate.
Over the years we have had youth of all ages participate.
Many times we had some community service diverted our way.
I only hope being involved with Fresno FNB hasn't been too much punishment
for any but the guilty. Those particular folks are irredeemable, anyway. ***
Suffice to say, many a youth has left their mark and showed us their mettle.

And these aspects of our meal servings might well contribute to a necessary dialog among concerned and committed e'er do wells, over how to best serve a fluctuating clientele.
Especially when considering potential output, or determining the intended audience of this activity.
One supported, most of all, by dedicated participants and volunteers of all ages.

The point of interest, for myself, were these people with kids,
standing in line for food when I first visited the serving.
There were quite a few, in long lines back then.
Many over the years were regular attendees and still show up on occasion.
Those long lines have been few and far between over the last few months.
A difficult complaint to lodge, but we have seen the ebb and flow of demand
on any given Saturday, and already see the pendulum swinging back in interesting ways.

Another, more obviously homeless, youth stopped in on January 8th,
perhaps a "runaway" from bad circumstances, or a dysfunctional system,
clearly needed the unexpected food we had available.
I suspect very few of the one thousand, three hundred and fifty two unbroken weekly Saturday Food Not Bombs servings at Roeding Park over 26 years, did not have at least one individual who was truly desperate for food.
IF you can even determine a scale of need. Not an easy judgement to make,
but you sure know it when you see it. You may not like it, but to make a difference in abject hunger?
A gratifying difference to make, bringing food that tastes and is better than almost any restaurant is willing to provide, to someone who has little expectation of grand cuisine. That is no joke, but it is the punchline. Something that will make you smile, if only inside.

The only thing that could dampen a tremendous meal would be minimal participation.
Over the recent Saturday-centric holiday season, we saw quite few people turning up intentionally.
All the while the engines of construction in the Wesley kitchen were turning out more than a meal these days. Additional effort was being made to produce burritos for the Needle Exchange participants who assemble nearby around 1 PM.
It is there that the additional work of these phenoms is couriered (by Josie!) while also taking any leftovers, including food donations that don't easily prep. But here we were, the week after New Years Day, loading up quite a few leftovers, due to a fine meal combined with a small turnout.

And then, just as we were preparing to leave, the young kid on his scooter stopped by as we tried to deliver food on the very quiet second serving of the year.
Utterly floored us with his presence. I think this is fair to say.
I couldn't put my fist around it at first. Maybe I almost forgot?
It is so gratifying to just share a little food. Hopefully tasty.
As it turned out, those beans, that day, were indeed.
This may explain the following week's reappearance of the young man, with a bicycle, this time.
A double bonus.
Seeing younger folks, momentarily (or regularly!) less reliant on what we know is out there for food options, because some magicians and genies could make something better happen? the power in that possibility is important to consider.

A fairly simple serving that day, almost in stark contrast to the typical extravagant buffet, practical in that we saw so very few folks at our location that cold day early in the month, and for that matter, the previous holiday weekends. Nevertheless, an excellent meal, and plenty of additional food items, along with clothing from the Pink Cow thrift store, the neighborhood treasure at Wesley United Methodist Church, 1343 E. Barstow. Right across from the kitchen where we prepare our meals. Not to mention those knit caps... ever so comfortable (What?)

A fantastic showing, on a beautiful day. But almost as if someone gave a war on poverty, and no one came. The warriors were there, though. And as always, people drifting by would discover a meal and supplies they could use, gratefully carrying away enough for themselves and others.
Our number one man Stan has been keeping us going for 11 years, much like Victoria Molina,
overseeing the setup, serving and packing up every week.
He advised us that most folks who might have been there had rented rooms because of the cold and other factors. We all grunted "huh" and gave dumb looks, grateful for the skilled interpretation. OK, that was just me. Except for the grateful part.

A year ago, this would have been a deluxe performance, under challenging circumstances.
Somehow since, everything turned around, because some involved folks are incredibly serious, steadfastly determined and equally skilled from their hard won years of practice.
It becomes obvious that the value of their efforts should be maximized, for everyone's sake.
That expansion has already self evidenced, but the opportunity presented to others who might wish to participate in something truly effective, or better yet, recognize this opportunity to learn
from and participate in some elegant actions. That is what comes to mind when you realize something special is happening here, at the moment. What makes this year any different? Besides the obvious upheavals? Maybe that is what we needed.

This secret army of a self select few, performing relentless epic deeds , engaged in weekly acts of reclamation, with dedication to quality and quantity, doing in depth research and development, maximizing output, literally exploding with results I have never seen before from so few folks in that kitchen.
No matter how many times you have heard it before- These performances deserve acclaim.
Oscars? Grammys? Tonys? Tigers? Lions? BEARS?
all of em!

We entered the big leagues with a COVID related blessing.
While many volunteers and interested groups curtailed their activities
during the pandemic lock downs and isolation measures,
a food service professional and East Bay FNB stalwart came our way,
in no way curtailed. And not prepared to mess around. Didnt. Dont.

What happened next should have been filmed with a high speed camera.
In no time at all, the ovens were humming, reworking the days high quality produce donations into multiple trays of vegetables that were more than that.
They are primo dishes. Even the ones with mushrooms. Did I say that?
Far more than just multiple overfull steamer trays of green beans, potatoes, tamales, pizzas, buckets of hard boiled eggs, quiche dishes, sausages...
each part of a weekly improvisation based on immediate resources, but primarily the wits and muscle of three*** individuals working the Wesley kitchen like a machine shop in wartime.
I know. Sorry. Questionable taste-
But these warriors kick some delicious assemblages out the door.

So suddenly, literally,-faster than anyone ever saw, multiple courses of beautifully prepared dishes-
On the menu.
I Dream of Josie style.
blink of an eye
the wishes we were filled with a year ago, having to face the loss of Wesley's kitchen-
(however THANKFULLY temporary that was, and how absolutely VERY MUCH we appreciate the blessings they continue to bestow, DECADES into this.
They, their congregation, the marvelous folks at the Pink Cow Thrift Store,
are indescribably culpable for any good accomplished out there,
supplying us with space for the necessary materials, a great kitchen, clothes and knitted hats, donations of every sort,
not least by any means so much the encouragement and camaraderie.
We know we are part of a larger and truly wonderful family of community minded, loving souls.
They keep that clear.
That aint a small thing at all, it is the rock we continue to stand on.)

So many wishes appear to have been granted. Quite seemingly.

beat that.
I don't know whether to play the lottery or just keep wishing
for good things..
I just know I am so grateful, for everyone's sake, that things turned out Josie.

After about an hour of effort, on Saturdays, we (even them!)
stand around gawking trying to think what else "we"
can do? More so, if only so many people show up to eat, what then?
About 7 courses on average with the new upgrade.
That wasn't enough, of course, of course. Hang on-
Another five dozen burritos get rolled up with all new ingredients
(not donated, but related donations might be appreciated *cough*)
and distributed subsequently at the Needle Exchange around 1 PM along with any leftovers from a fluctuating serving turnout in the park. All of which seem to be eagerly received at this event.

That's not enough, either. Of course.
They start slathering peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
That cant be easy. Ask me how I don't know.
I start to get nervous. These people are beyond my ken.
They want to feed everybody.
They aint just talkin about it either.
Nuclear fusion ninjas gunning the throttle.
I must be too old (no kiddin).
They are too fast, too furious (in a peaceful and loving etc.)
They are scaring me.
SO much potential, actually realized, despite constraints like me.
Expressed with virtuosity, not a bead of sweat on these talented veterans.
Then you top that off with their higher ambitions, and actual accomplishments.
If I could only brag about that.
The things they do in addition to this meal of tradition.
invisible super heroes, but when you do see them,
you can see they have big fish (veggies on Saturday) to fry,
with the looks in their eyes.
Clear the way, coming through.
Did anyone get the license plate on that powerful soul?
These are the folks worth studying. Learning from. Helping.
If you want a better world, for our immediate community?
There is not a better place, to place your shoulder.
I may need glasses, but I can see this is the best chance we have.
Working together, with skilled individuals.
Doing the most possible with what is available.
In some respects, it is easier than ever. In other respects, complicated.
the overall intended service requires strategic coordination and larger participation,
ideally, from everyone. It could be more. It could be better.
That next level stuff does not happen easily, and will not happen without next level participants.
Even given those ingredients, the opportunity is not always ripe.
That opportunity is now.
Right now.

As we seek to understand the dynamics of a decades long single park serving,
meant for any and all willing participants,
occasions arise where we seem to bottom out in crowd numbers.
If only because literally no one (seemingly) or less than a handful might show, at least in advance. Typically this only happens when eager new volunteers want to be of help, or a fantastic meal is combined with a grocery store's worth of food products determinedly hauled around by Jackie Holmes (OUR HERO!) or when important visitors drop by
(decide for yourself who is important, please, but we have had a few I think (thousands, more like),
and this rule held when you would least hope..
Which is not to say we have ever had a bad meal. And I have tried. There is more to it than anyone can spoil. Community. Love, I guess. Genuine spirit. You can't dismiss the power when you field gratitude, expressed so many times and ways.
Over the years, crowds that once numbered above 100 became dozens, ultimately.
Dozens, on occasion became fewer. Reasons circulated, speckled and speculated...
Large or sudden shifts occurred, presumably due to housing opportunities,
campsite cleanouts or competition from other food opportunities, and the COVID threat.
That certainly halted the participation of of some volunteers, for many reasons,
and some have already returned, and made HUGE contributions. Lupe is the best(part of Victoria)!.
Certain stalwarts would rather fight than miss a serving. Victoria Molina has to be there.
like some other fixtures, Stan for one, the few times they aren't present it is more than noticeable.
I think Victoria has missed about three servings.
These folks are long time pillars of the park serving.
What they bring to our table can't be described,
but it should be experienced, believed, and then re-experienced.

Highlighting their fearless and/or foolish determination, the largely remaining long time servers
and facilitators spearheaded our response throughout the first year of the pandemic.
Behind masks, fences, caution tape, constant exposure to strangers, despite the serious health concerns, despite the loss of our own, these steadfast links in the chain of required actions just to have a picnic of this sort carried the hell on.
It would be just perfect, to name all the names, and tragic to leave anyone out, as the very many volunteers involved past and present deserve far more than laurels. They need to be remembered.
The fact is, this activity not only requires, but it also enjoys the muscle and energy of true heroes. Each a crucial aspect of a seemingly unstoppable activity now 26 years in the doing.
This may be notable, it may be clinical, but the relentless commitment that bound this achievement, spread among several dozens of truly fine and sincere humans of great merit and some infamy
has kept an unbroken flow of Saturday picnics in Roeding park since January of 1996. A staggering record.
For some while now, we have been serving that meal at 11:30 AM near the end of the Roeding Park tennis court cul de sac, very near the Olive avenue entrance, and easily visible from there. But don't blink.
The serving is usually well over by noon sharp.

This location is one of several we have used within the park over the years.
Seemingly optimal in terms of shade, traffic, parking and visibility.
Situated between the free parking on the West avenue cul-de-sac pedestrian entry,
and the five dollar motor vehicle entrance,
people tend to notice as they pass by,
and different participants take part by way of introduction to this event.
The volunteers tend to notice, as well, when numbers drop, so to speak.
Which, over the years, and week to week, have seen dramatic changes, some perhaps linked to obscure serving locations and various changes in local outdoor demographics.
Certainly, now, many of the folks and families who stood in line for our meal and additional food items every day for years have disappeared, gone for good? I suppose so!
With that kind of "good news" lowering our audience of faithful (willing?) onsite participants, the machinery producing the meal still approaches nuclear fusion potential.
All of this quantity physics presents a difficult equation- How much horsepower can we afford to waste performing a service with a limited audience?
Which is not to say any effort is being wasted. When Josie hauls the second breakfast over to Hobbiton at Dr Lasher's clinic. This series of servings, working both sides of the street, over a longer span of time, massively increases the expansiveness of the meal.
These things fall on a particular set of shoulders.
Not just commendable and (AWE) inspiring, very educational.
and faster than the speed of light so help me mother mary and Josie,
if you blink you missed a considerable amount.
BOOOM meals done, what's next?
I'm still trying to find my coffee.

A mutant, of course. no ordinary human or variant thereof.
Josie has transformed our serving and the degree of service every Saturday
since our wishes came true.
Bad things come in threes, they say. As we mourn and keep count of dead celebs.
Good things, in my anecdotal, wondering experience, come in a flood, until they don't..
Another piece of flotsam surfaced (seriously, the whole mining for gold analogy is much more environmentally questionable.) and showed us exactly what is up.
For all of the endless thanks due (and conveyed) to our most venerable participants (Victoria Molina. you take the cake.)
Erika came to town, and stalks the local hungry with leftovers and notifying them of the opportunity. This is huge, too.

My next wish would surely be to convey the respect and appreciation for each of these individual heroics.
It is like watching the Olympics with these athletes crushing it while I get fat(ter) enjoying the vicarious workout.
Some kind of perfect.

If I had a third wish (who's keeping count? do-overs?) It would be another, perfectly small flood of inspired, loving hearts.
young and not so much, with time to spare and an interest in making the mathematical difference, not just the flourish of grand gesture.
gathering around to watch these maneuvers and participate in old and new ways. Learning some ropes, perhaps picking up a torch or two. Maybe servings in other locations could be dreamt of?
Somebody wake me, quick!

Knowing how much they want to do, if only on Saturdays in that kitchen,
every week of every year, so far so good..
They might just need your help doing it, and more.
because they are proving how much more can be done.
The need will not be reducing itself,
I would bank like a hedge funder, on a very significant increase in food security issues.
Dont let these mutant superheroes embarrass fried couch potatoes like me.
Come stand around and watch from a safe distance. Keep me company. You wont believe your eyes.
But dont blink.


if you're a badass too, dive in!
It's fun, i hear.

*Unsensitive to the "kid" designation, myself, and fond of goats, I might use that term too much for those very sensitive to the feelings of goats. Potentially oxymoronic, depending on which preconceptions you apply.
Please don't cancel me for that, if you haven't already.
Being compared to, or confused with a goat is a compliment, certainly in my case.
Nobody ever said they would never see a goat as lovely as me.
Goat power. Kid pride.

** (along with equally long standing and incredibly effective programs like the Needle Exchange, as well. Newt Gingrich was in part, a godsend for the needs of unserved lower income Fresno residents. It just required the right choir of Angels.)

*** anything but foot notes, Mary Ann Quann and Heather Balcom are the last words who merit top billing and outrageous amounts of gratitude for making Food Not Bombs a reality every Saturday. The true identity of this Josie character is a trade secret.
by kelly borkert
by kelly borkert
by kelly borkert
by kelly borkert
by kelly borkert
by kelly borkert
by kelly borkert
by kelly borkert
by kelly borkert
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FNB is awesome - there is still much work to be doneC.T. ButlerSaturday Jan 22nd, 2022 9:58 AM
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