On a recent Sunday afternoon, a group of activists drove their car up to the park next to the City Heights Library and pulled a large, steaming pot of soup out of the car. The activists carried the soup over to a table, along with bags of bread, tacos, salad, and a jug of water.
They met at a nearby home earlier in the day to prepare the meal.
The group is the City Heights chapter of Food Not Bombs, an international movement to reclaim wasted food and share hot meals with the public. And since the beginning of the year, the volunteer collective has been serving free meals most Sunday afternoons in the park.
It’s one of a few local chapters in the area.
“Food Not Bombs has been active in San Diego for five, six, seven years,” Mary Tamburro, said a City Heights Food Not Bombs volunteer.
Previous Food Not Bombs chapters have existed in North Park and Ocean Beach. Currently, a chapter shares meals downtown at 16th Street and Island Avenue on Thursdays, and a Tijuana chapter serves food daily at a storefront near the Tijuana Arch.
“We’re trying to save food,” Tamburro said.
A report from the Natural Resources Defense Council says that an estimated 40 percent of food is never consumed in the United States and goes to waste.
The City Heights group gets its food from a variety of sources. Tamburro said that local and organic Suzie’s Farm provides much of the produce regularly. They donate leftovers from farmers markets and “ugly vegetables” that grew in an irregular shape. The much smaller Solidarity Farm, a practitioner of ethical farming, also provides produce donations.
The group also solicits donations from food businesses. The bread comes from a bakery that discards surplus, day-old stock. Friends and family members also have donated food. The canned beans came from the pantry of Tamburro’s co-worker.
When donations are low, the group is not opposed to saving fresh food directly from trash bins.
At the park, they share the meal among themselves and extend the invitation to everyone near by.
Not everyone welcomes their presence at the Officer Jeremy Henwood Memorial Park in City Heights.
Tamburro said that an association of homeowners has complained to San Diego Councilwoman Marti Emerald, alleging that the group encourages homelessness in the public park and requesting that it suspend the food-serving activity.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” Tamburro said. “I don’t think we’re promoting homelessness. I don’t think people are giving up their jobs and homes and security for a bowl of veggie soup on Sunday afternoons.”
She said there are other ways to help City Heights’ growing homeless issue.
“If people in City Heights are uncomfortable with the park being full of homeless people, maybe we should open a shelter,” Tamburro said. “Or if they’re concerned that there’s mental health issues and their families are in danger, maybe we should open more low-cost and free clinics for services like that. There’s lots of things we can do besides stop feeding people food in the park to help them with their homeless problems.”
City Heights Food Not Bombs serves meals around 5 p.m. Sundays at the Officer Jeremy Henwood Memorial Park in City Heights.