Working with Wild Oats, the Breadsmith, and Price Chopper, Food Not Bombs rescues surplus items -- food that has survived the "sell by" date and is about to get tossed. The members of Food Not Bombs then cook hot vegetarian meals and feed people on the corner of 40th and Main every Sunday afternoon. About 15 people show up each week; afterward, volunteers take whatever food they haven't used for meal preparation to a battered women's shelter and a mission downtown.
The emphasis remains more on making food available than on the number of people who actually stop to eat. While Kansas City has other places for hungry people to turn -- especially on Thanksgiving -- Food Not Bombs makes a particular commitment to accepting them as they are. Food Not Bombs dinners are one of the few places where "people who don't want to have to listen to a sermon before eating free food" can feel comfortable, says volunteer Maralie Armstrong-Rial.
Kansas City's Food Not Bombs is one of the smaller chapters in a nationwide network. Armstrong-Rial, who worked with Food Not Bombs in Little Rock, Arkansas, says the organization has three governing principles: to build community (which explains the public, outdoor location), to be nonviolent (hence the vegetarian food), and to redistribute food destined for Dumpsters. Some cities have frowned upon using public space for gatherings of homeless people in need, and Food Not Bombs members have ended up in jail (because of their stance on violence, they do not resist arrest). Kansas City Food Not Bombs, however, has met little opposition from city officials.
So after cooking in a midtown apartment, members use a child's red wagon to cart the veggie stir-fry and hollowed-out rolls they'll use as bowls to 40th and Main. On a recent Sunday, one of the elder members of the group played her new accordion while others jousted with poles. A piñata held plastic harmonicas and whistles that provided endless entertainment.
A few people were already waiting for Food Not Bombs when members showed up, while others strolled by later and, enticed by the smell of fresh-cooked food, stopped to grab a plate and fill it up. Volunteers greeted people, but it was all self-serve. Some people return to eat almost weekly; they hang around to strike up conversations long after they've had their fill. One regular brought roses for the women in the group and asked each volunteer to give him a word of wisdom before he left. Another double-checked the serving time so she could tell her friends. "Then they can stop coming to my house," she joked.
As the sun set and the corner cleared out, volunteers "cleaned up." That is, they emptied out dishes and cleared off trays -- and began making a mess of one another. Tomato slices (organic) cut through the air, and pie-wielding Food Not Bombs volunteers hid behind statues and trees awaiting unsuspecting young idealists like themselves -- perfect targets for airborne sweet potatoes. In what has become a weekly ritual, Kim "Pie Face" Johnson, a Food Not Bombs member of four years, was attacked once again by errant whipped cream.
Luckily, it was just food and not bombs.