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Food Not Bombs volunteers Thomas (who declined to give his last name) and Ash Hobson Carr walk through the garden at RVA Createspace on Wickham Street, where the group is now based. (Photo by Jay Paul)
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Even in January, there was some kale in the garden to add to Food Not Bombs' kale and tomato salad. The plan is for this to become a community garden for the North Side neighborhood. (Photo by Jay Paul)
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The pantry at Food Not Bombs' quarters in the RVA Createspace building, which the group hopes to expand to meet needs in the surrounding community (Photo by Jay Paul)
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Raised beds at RVA Createspace, where Food Not Bombs hopes to grow more of its own food (Photo by Jay Paul)
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Ash Hobson Carr checks out Food Not Bombs' "new" Garland commercial-quality gas stove, acquired for $500 from a private owner. The group has been preparing meals in a regular home oven with just four burners. This model has six burners, two ovens, a grill and broiler. (Photo by Jay Paul)
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Thomas stirs a tray of roasted potatoes in the Food Not Bombs kitchen, which is slated for an upgrade. Behind him is Abby Huston, a sophomore VCU sculpture student who is a regular volunteer. (Photo by Jay Paul)
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Roasted potatoes are on the menu for this free meal served by Food Not Bombs at Abner Clay Park. (Photo by Jay Paul)
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Food Not Bombs volunteers Thomas Brownell (right), Abby Huston (left) and Hannah Kocen head to their cars with trays of food to take to Abner Clay Park. (Photo by Jay Paul)
Just after 2 p.m. on a recent Sunday, the sweet smell of banana-chocolate bread permeates the lower level of the building at 607 Wickham St., home to the nonprofit RVA Createspace, where Food Not Bombs recently set up shop.
For more than two decades, the group served weekly meals at Monroe Park, cooking out of homes including the former Wingnut Anarchist Collective in Southern Barton Heights. Food Not Bombs lost access to Monroe Park in November when it closed for a 12- to 18-month renovation, but the group continues to serve free meals at Jackson Ward’s Abner Clay Park.
Meanwhile, the volunteer-run organization is developing a commercial-quality kitchen in the Createspace building, where it moved its cooking operation in December. Arthur Kay, director of RVA Createspace and a volunteer with Food Not Bombs, says that an online fundraiser last fall netted $4,205 toward the effort. The goals also include opening a food pantry for the surrounding North Side neighborhood, offering shared gardening and raising produce for the weekly meals.
On the menu this Sunday: yellow squash and zucchini, roasted potatoes, bean and pepper salad with mustard vinaigrette, kale and tomato salad, and apple crisp. The meal was prepared in a regular home oven, but just two days earlier, Food Not Bombs acquired a vintage Garland six-burner gas range with a grill, broiler and double ovens. Though the group paid $500, Kay considers it a donation, estimating it usually would cost about $3,000 used. Before they can fire it up, however, they need to install a fume hood — an expensive project.
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Toniraye Moss, a volunteer, and Abby Huston hang a sign in the Abner Clay Park gazebo showing Food Not Bombs' motto: "Food is a right, not a privilege." (Photo by Jay Paul)
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Guests fill their plates at a free Sunday meal provided by Food Not Bombs in Abner Clay Park. (Photo by Jay Paul)
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(From left) Mary Fore, a frequent Food Not Bombs volunteer, helps to set up trays at Abner Clay Park with Hannah Kocen and Abby Huston. (Photo by Jay Paul)
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Whole Foods provides many of the ingredients for the meals, and Kroger also contributes items; Richmond Halal Market provides curried chicken and rice, and a former restaurateur chips in with green beans, tofu and rice. (Photo by Jay Paul)
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Kathy Collins (center) says she has been coming to Food Not Bombs meals for 31 years, first at Monroe Park and now at Abner Clay Park. She lives in an apartment on Fourth Street downtown and rides her bike. "It's one of my favorite things to do," she says. "I meet people and keep learning how to eat healthy." (Photo by Jay Paul)
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Guests fill their plates at one of Food Not Bombs' free Sunday meals at Abner Clay Park. (Photo by Jay Paul)
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The meals served by Food Not Bombs are mainly vegetarian. (Photo by Jay Paul)
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People who come to the Sunday meals are offered fruit, vegetables and bread to take home with them. (Photo by Jay Paul)
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RVA Createspace Director and Food Not Bombs volunteer Arthur Kay and first-time volunteer Hannah Kocen, a student at Hermitage High School Center for the Humanities, carry leftover bread to be used for another meal the next day. (Photo by Jay Paul)
At 3:30 p.m., the team of nine volunteers loads trays of food, tables and drink dispensers into cars, drives to the park and sets up a serving line in the gazebo. The crowd, though smaller than the gatherings at Monroe Park, seems appreciative. One person says she lives in a shelter, another struggles to get by on $35 a month in food stamps. Garland Mills, who rode his bicycle from Idlewood Avenue, would stand in line for the meals in Monroe Park when he was homeless. Since he got his own apartment, he’s continued the practice. “It seems like I have good luck every time I come,” he says.
By 5 p.m., leftovers have been distributed along with bags of bread, pastries and produce. All the trash is collected and serving items loaded back into cars, and the gazebo is just as empty as when they arrived.