Drew Joselson.
Drew Joselson, who has been working with Foods Not Bombs for the past seven months, slices up some pie on Christmas Eve in the parking lot on the corner of Laurel and Front streets in Santa Cruz.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
Civic Life

Christmas Eve and Day meals for the unhoused evidence ‘we do care for each other’

Keith McHenry, founder of Food Not Bombs, said he was overwhelmed by community support as he prepared to distribute free meals to the unhoused population this holiday season. The group will be providing meals on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, starting at noon.

For more than four decades, Food Not Bombs has been giving away meals to anyone who asks. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the group has been doing it daily.

And in recent years, it also began providing special holiday meals — Thanksgiving starting in 2012 and Christmas Eve and Christmas Day starting last year.

The holiday meal on Friday will be held at Laurel and Front streets in downtown Santa Cruz. The one Saturday will be held at the River Street garage, the temporary emergency shelter set up after recent rains caused flooding in the benchlands area along the San Lorenzo River. Food will be available both days starting at 12 p.m.

The year has been a particularly hard one for Santa Cruz’s unhoused population. According to Alicia Kuhl, president of the Santa Cruz Homeless Union, 95 people died on the streets of Santa Cruz in 2021.

Keith McHenry of Food Not Bombs during the food distribution on Dec. 24, 2021.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

That only pushes Keith McHenry, the founder of Food Not Bombs, to work harder.

“Hundreds of people depend on us to survive,” he said.

McHenry says he’s spoken with over 30 potential volunteers for this year’s food distribution and has been overwhelmed by the support.

“I’ve been answering the phone for years for both Thanksgiving and Christmas,” he said. “And this is the biggest number of calls for Christmas interest in volunteering I have ever seen in all those years.”

Emma Saso has been volunteering with Food Not Bombs for a little over a year.

“A lot of work goes into giving folks who don’t have another option a nice meal for Christmas,” she said.

Saso said Food Not Bombs will be offering ham, cranberry sauce and veggies this Christmas, a break from the organization’s typical vegan and vegetarian options.

After a somber memorial service earlier this week, McHenry said the Christmas Eve and Day meals provide a measure of hope and joy.

“We found that at the memorial service, many of our closest friends have died,” McHenry said. “That was tragic enough to have the memorial service, but now this is more uplifting and a celebration that we’re still still a strong community and that we do care for each other.”

Although the organization might not be in need of more volunteers for the holiday, McHenry says unhoused people will always be in need of donations, especially during the winter and rainy season.

Blankets, coats, tents, tarps, socks, rain gear and clothing are particularly needed. These and other donations can be dropped off at Food Not Bombs’ regular food distribution site — Laurel and Front streets — when the group is operating.

Alicia Wright helps hand out food on Dec. 24 as part of the Food Not Bombs holiday meal service.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)