This piece first appeared in Broke-Ass Stuart's God Damn Website in October, 2016.
Founded on the simple mission of getting healthy food to Oakland’s overlooked homeless community, Punks With Lunch began humbly in 2015 in Alejandra del Pinal’s kitchen. That first day, they handed out 40 lunches to folks living in the homeless encampments around Oakland. Today, a little over a year later, they pass out about 120 lunches a week as well as 40 to 50 harm reduction kits that contain clean needles, crack pipes, and condoms.
Having outgrown Alejandra’s kitchen, Punks With Lunch volunteers now assemble their lunches and harm reduction kits at the Command Center Warehouse in West Oakland. Afterwards, everyone piles into cars and drive around to the various homeless camps to pass out bagged lunches, harm reduction kits, personal hygiene supplies, and coats.
I volunteered with this awesome group last Sunday and had some time to talk to Alejandra about this incredible organization and the impact that it is having on Oakland.
How did Punks With Lunch get started?
I have been working in the culinary industry for about five or six years now and feeding rich people all of the time, and I kind of hate feeding rich people. I would rather feed my friends or people who deserve to be fed really good food. That’s kind of how I got the idea. Then I saw an article about Burmese punks who do this, and it got the ball rolling.
When did you start your harm reduction program?
We started doing harm reduction about six months ago. A lot of people depend on us now. There are really limited resources of people providing clean needles, crack pipes, and whatever else to people. There is one group that does needle exchange on Fridays, but that’s it other than us.
How much does it cost to put on Punks With Lunch?
It costs about $120 a week to do it, and it’s all donation. If we could get more money we could provide dog food and more hygiene products, like feminine supplies and detergent. That’s ultimately what we want to do.
If people were to donate to Punks With Lunch, what do you guys need?
We always need soaps, tarps, socks, clean underwear, hygiene products, condoms, powdered laundry detergent. We need stuff that’s easy to distribute. Mostly we need non-perishable items. Contributing to our fundraising page is also extremely helpful.
With the waves of people moving to Oakland do you see a noticeable effect this gentrification have on the people you are providing lunch and supplies too?
We are seeing a lot of displacement. We are seeing that people are getting removed from places and it makes it hard to find where the encampments are going to be. And it’s awful, because when they are forced to move a lot of stuff gets thrown away. It’s just getting worse and worse and more people are moving into these camps. Then they get forced to move, but they aren’t being offered any alternatives on where to go. It’s fucking infuriating and it’s dehumanizing.
What’s the hardest part of running Punks With Lunch?
I love what we do, but seeing how people treat homeless people or people with addictions, it’s just disgusting. You see people walking by someone who is starving or is over-dosing and people don’t care. It’s horrible.
How can people volunteer?
We get together every Sunday at 12:30 PM at the Command Center Warehouse in West Oakland to put together the lunches and harm reduction kits. Then we drive to the homeless encampments and hand out lunches and supplies. Everyone is welcome to come and help out with both parts.
Punks With Lunch is non-political, not-for-profit, non-judgmental, and welcoming to all. Please check out their Facebook page to find out more about donating supplies, volunteer opportunities and rad fundraising shows. To donate money, visit their CrowdRise site – every dollar is sorely needed and goes towards really making a difference. Finally, if you want to meet a bad ass new crew and spend an afternoon helping out and listening to punk rock, I cannot recommend it enough.