On a Sunday morning, I got up and drove to a local punk house to chat with the volunteers for West Oakland Punks With Lunch. I got there a bit late, and they were already busy. The kitchen was lively, conversations shifted from social to volunteer business every few minutes. These punks were working hard and taking it seriously. Although I am a member of the punk community in the East Bay, I am not a volunteer of this organization. But as an outsider, they made me feel welcome.
Before the group goes to the distribution site, they all sit down for a meeting. Even volunteers that have been helping for months sit down and check themselves as a group before going. The meeting, led by Alejandra, stresses compassion and self-care. She kindly reminds volunteers to step away from any situation they are uncomfortable with, but to be non-judgmental and to always remember that we are all human beings. It was hard not to weep a bit after hearing her speech!
Once out at the site, an outreach team also goes to help people that might not be able to come to the distribution site. They go out in teams and provide services and First Aid to anyone who might need it. During this particular day, an unaffiliated family pulled up in a car and handed out hot lunches at the site, happily collaborating with Punks With Lunch.
I felt that as someone that had never been there before and only knowing two of the organizers, I shouldn’t be the only one to describe the amazing work they do. So I asked them a few questions and had the team answer for themselves. Founder Alejandra, organizer Wretched Ryan, and regular volunteer Paula were kind enough to stop their busy morning for a second to let Bad Copy know what Punks With Lunch is all about.
Punks With Lunch is in the process of teaming up with other organizations to provide more services, such as showers and access to rehabilitation programs. To donate or for more information, please visit:
Disclaimer: All volunteers pictured agreed to have themselves photographed. Faces and identities of clients are blurred out for their protection and anonymity.
So, what is Punks with Lunch?
Alejandra: Punks With Lunch is a DIY, underground organization that distributes food, hygiene, and harm reduction supplies to people experiencing homelessness in West Oakland.
Wretched Ryan: We meet at around 1PM. A team does an assembly line for making sandwiches. There’s someone getting together our harm reduction table stuff and there’s someone gathering hygiene supplies. We go out around 3PM to the distribution site. Any given Sunday we feed about 100 to 140; it just depends.
Paula: There’s two sites and they are a little bit different. I’d say one has more flow of traffic and the other one is right by a homeless encampment. On Wednesdays we do a different location from like 6PM to 8PM. There are days we hardly have any volunteers, but the core group of volunteers is very dedicated. They might not always come, like, every week. But when they do come, they know what to do and they know the clientele.
So for people that don’t know already, what is harm reduction?
A: (Laughs) That’s a loaded question! I guess it’s just reducing the harm. People are going to do whatever they are going to do, whether it’s driving without a seat belt or heroin. Everyone deserves the right to reduce their harm.
WR: It’s a philosophy of doing whatever you are going to do, as safe and healthy as possible.
P: It’s kind of like using a condom. You use a condom to help reduce the harm of STDs.
What else do you provide to the community?
A: Other than what we do every week with handouts, we also help educate the larger punk community about what harm reduction is.
WR: We go around parts of Oakland and do syringe clean ups. There used to be way more needle waste around town. It’s been reduced significantly. It doesn’t just affect people that use the needles, it can hurt kids and pets around town. They can puncture most shoes and cause flat tires as well. It’s keeping the community safe.
P: We also hand out and train people to use Narcan, which is the opiate reversal drug. It can prevent an overdose. We also train people to do it, they get a package and a card and it’s been great. We’ve saved a lot of people from overdoses.
How can someone volunteer or get involved?
Everyone: You can look us up on Facebook at West Oakland Punks With Lunch and send us a message or you can email email@example.com.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A: Punks With Lunch just got fiscally sponsored and can use a 501c3 tax number!
WR: We aren’t funded by the government or anything. We are a grassroots organization. So donate if you can!
P: It’s really fulfilling. It’s great to be a part of the community and doing something positive.