Cuts in food stamp program prompt student activism

By A.V. Sherk – [email protected] – Staff Writer
Due to recent government spending cuts to the food stamp program, 47 million Americans face going without food.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides nutritional assistance to low-income families and individuals, who make up 17 percent of North Carolinians according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This government program is made possible by the Food and Nutrition Service, an extension of the USDA. The N.C. SNAP budget faces $166 million in cuts, affecting 758,000 children and 285,000 of the state’s elderly population.
One year after re-opening, the UNC Asheville Food Not Bombs chapter felt compelled to continue their volunteer work and see the tangible good they do every Sunday.
“It started with Pete and I, maybe one other person. We used to do it Sunday evenings, and then we noticed that five or 10 people maximum were coming. We would cook tons of food, and all of our food at that time came out of the Dumpster,” said Sarah Cohen, the founding member. “Finally someone said, ‘You should do lunchtime,’ and so we did that. We started getting a following.”
Cohen and Pete McKelvey started from humble beginnings and took the initiative to grow their chapter into something much bigger.
“I wanted to do something consistent and something direct,” said McKelvey, UNCA Food Not Bombs chapter founder. “At first, it was pretty much just me and Sarah. We got some resources through the Warren Wilson chapter to get started, we got stuff from Goodwill, we all chipped in things of ours, we dumpstered. Anything we could we scrapped together until we had a full kitchen.”
Now, the UNCA chapter of Food Not Bombs meets in the Sherrill Center’s Teaching Kitchen fully stocked and supplied with donated food from Greenlife.  They started by feeding less than a dozen people. Now they feed about 50 to 60 people every Sunday.
“It started in the ‘80’s, feeding homeless people, doing actions, stuff like that,” Cohen said, “The idea was to say that there are a lot of hungry people, we throw away tons of food and we have problems in our own country and yet we’re dropping bombs and spending tons of money on the military industrial complex. It’s kind of an act of protesting just to say, ‘Look, there’s a larger issue at home.’ Hence, Food Not Bombs.”
According to the Food Not Bombs website, Keith McHenry, co-founder of Food Not Bombs, began serving food to the hungry more than 30 years ago. Through peaceful protest in California, Florida, Connecticut, Arizona and New Mexico, Food Not Bombs attempts to help the homeless and defy the resistance they receive from some of the local authorities.
“I was trying to get Keith to speak at UNC Asheville, and then this silly thing happened where he was feeding a group of homeless people in Taos, New Mexico, and then he got arrested,” Cohen said. “He was arrested because feeding the homeless is illegal in Taos along with 49 other cities, including Raleigh.”
Both the cuts in the food stamps budget and the criminalization of feeding the hungry target low-income people. According to Cohen and McKelvey, Food Not Bombs activists see their work as not only aiding the community but also as acts of civil disobedience against anti-homeless legislation that affects all people under the poverty line.
The UNCA chapter of Food Not Bombs hopes to grow beyond their campus presence and become a community organization that cooks on campus.
“During the summer it was a struggle, because we couldn’t work on campus so we had to work out of the kitchen at my house,” McKelvey said. “It worked, but it also meant that fewer people were showing up and a lot of students went home for the summer. So we’re trying to grow in to more of a community organization instead of a student organization.”