Nonprofit Food Not Bombs fights hunger, waste, severe weather in Columbia

The organization goes to health food stores and farmers markets to collect food that would otherwise be thrown away, preventing waste.

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Every Saturday at the corner of Ninth and Broadway in downtown Columbia, a small group of locals are changing the stereotype of greediness in America. Robert Morrison, a Columbia resident and activist, spends his Saturdays collecting food that will otherwise be thrown away and giving it out to local shelters, those in need and anyone in Columbia that is interested in free food through the nonprofit organization, Food Not Bombs.

Food Not Bombs started in 1980. Growing out of a protest about the Seabrook nuclear plant, the organization flourished. Food Not Bombs gained its name from a stencil that was used that said “drop food not bombs.” The organization believes that food is a right not a privilege, and gives the food they collect out to all with no questions, freely, Morrison said. It’s a grassroots organization, and there are about 1,000 of them internationally.

Morrison has gained a group of volunteers that help him whenever they can.

Phillip Meece, a Columbia resident and neighbor of Morrison, started to contribute to Food Not Bombs a year ago. Ever since then, Meece walks across the street to Morrison’s residence around 3 p.m. to prep the food that will be given out downtown an hour later.

“I help him pick the vegetables that he’s going to keep for the people that come here for vegetables and fruit, and then make selections of what’s going to go to the food bank, pantries and the local shelters,” Meece said. “He has this logistical turnaround between receiving the vegetables and he has about an hour and a half before he has to be on the corner.”

Morrison is far from boastful about his position with Food Not Bombs and refers to himself as “the guy with the van.” He attributes his actions to having free time, his ability to say please and thank you and having two hands. Robert reports to any calls of free food throughout the week, and keeps busy with sorting all of the food and giving back to local shelters in Columbia.

Food Not Bombs can receive a call at anytime, but mainly runs on Saturday.

The organization goes around on Saturday morning to different health-food stores and to the Columbia, Boone County and Urban Farm farmers markets in town. The group stops at Uprise Bakery on Sunday to collect day-old bread. Food Not Bombs brings the collected food to all the local shelters throughout the week, most often True North and Harbor House. They also run a free coat rack downtown, and have a goal of donating at least 500 coats this winter.

Food Not Bombs is a vegan organization with the exception of vegetarian baked goods, Morrison said. Because of this, Morrison makes it a point to get the highest quality food he can, which is why he primarily receives his food from health food stores and farmers markets. Meece has been able to witness the quality of food that Morrison is able to obtain and is still in awe.

“It’s all the organic stuff,” Meece said. “So this is really the best stuff, the highest nutrient-dense vegetables and fruit.”

In the summertime, “the spread is incredible,” Meece said. Food Not Bombs makes sure to have a variety of foods that are in their harvest season during the summer.

Not only does Food Not Bombs bring free food to those in need, it also contributes to helping with food waste in Columbia, Morrison said. They compost the food that goes bad. In the past year, Food Not Bombs put out around 30,000 pounds of food and typically deal with as much as 1,700 pounds of food each week, and gathered 300 coats for the free coat rack downtown in the past year, Morrison said.

After having a few different locations around Columbia for Food Not Bombs, Morrison said he sees the importance of keeping the Saturday drop-off on Ninth and Broadway.

“Ninth and Broadway to me is the heart of town,” Morrison said. “It’s central to town, and a lot of the people who need us here are downtown. We just all come together and make it happen. We create community, we create friends. I’ve gotten to know a lot of people through doing this that I wouldn’t have met.”

Morrison plans to continue to run the Food Not Bombs Columbia chapter as long as he can, and is grateful for the chance to do it in the first place.

“[Morrison] is undeniably the heart and soul of the operation,” Meece said. “He spends all day every day, serving others. When you're around him, you can't help but be drawn into the effort.”

Edited by Janae McKenzie | jmckenzie@themaneater.com

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