Oakland’s Punks with Lunch Turns Three
In a climate where words such as ‘displacement’, ‘gentrification’, ‘homelessness’, and ‘addiction’ are populating our daily vocabularies with greater frequency, Punks with Lunch is a bright light in the dark night of Oakland’s current housing epidemic. In its third year, Punks with Lunch continues to operate on the simple mission of providing Oakland’s homeless community with lunches and harm reduction supplies. Now serving lunch to approximately 150 folks a week and distributing harm reduction and personal hygiene kits, Punks with Lunch also celebrated getting it’s not for profit status this year.
We’ve always been fans of the work they do (see for yourself here and here) and when Punks with Lunch celebrated its third birthday this past weekend, I had the opportunity to sit down with founder, Alejandra, to talk about what the past year has brought them, and where they are headed.
The last time we interviewed you, it was at Punks with Lunch second birthday. In the past year, what has changed for the group?
Oh man. We are now a California certified syringe exchange program, which is amazing. We have organized countless community cleanups, shows, and still doing our normal thing. But I think we’re moving towards being legitimized.
What was your first year of operating as a not for profit like?
Not much has changed other than a lot of us have taken on a lot more work outside of our other jobs. So, a lot of us are working behind the scenes, but we remain really grassroots. We still don’t require people to have a commitment to come, you can come as you are. Our not for profit status does help us get needle supplies easier and we’re getting a little bit of help from certain organizations and certain people in city and state government. But really, it’s not that different. We’re doing what we’ve always done and that’s feeding people.
What do hope for Punks with Lunch to be?
We want this to be an introduction to helping people. An introduction to harm reduction. An introduction to meeting your neighbor.
What changes have you noticed in Oakland and the folks that you serve?
It’s a difficult thing to say. From what I see, I see this rapid change that’s going on. It’s gentrification and people being forced out of their homes, so these places can be fixed up and rented for thousands of dollars more. Most of the people who are our participants are from the neighborhood. A lot of people who come up to us who are in the neighborhood will tells us thinks like, “You’re helping my aunt,” or “You’re helping my cousin,” or whatever. People are still looking out for one another, but there’s just no space. Black and brown people are being kicked out, low income people are being kicked out to make it better, but who is that better for who?
Now that Punks with Lunch has three years under its belt, what advice can you give to people who might want to start a group like this where they are?
Trust yourself and trust the group that you’re with. I feel like Punks with Lunch remains decentralized in the fact that there are no real leaders. There are some people who take on a little bit more responsibilities, but everyone has the opportunity to take on that responsibility. Giving people a chance and a voice and telling them that this is their organization as well, so they can be a part of that.
What do you hope for Punks with Lunch this coming year?
I want us to thrive instead of trying to survive. Punks with Lunch holds strong guidelines that we are nonjudgmental, and people should just come as they are. We hold this belief to be really important, particularly when it comes to harm reduction. What I would like to see in the next year is us thriving without creating barriers for people. What that looks like is people shouldn’t have to give up information to get lifesaving services and we should be able to just give it. I want Punks with Lunch to grow with the same dignity we provide. We don’t want to treat people like a number, it’s not about the money, but it is necessary.
Want to help our Punks with Lunch? It’s easy! For folks looking to donate money towards non-harm reduction needs, click here. To send checks or see supplies that they need, click here. Looking to get involved personally? Punks With Lunch are always looking for volunteers! The group meets each Sunday and prepares lunches, hygiene kits, harm reduction kits, and bags of animal food and then go out to distribute them. You can get more information of when and where they meet by shooting them a message here.
Here’s looking at you Punks with Lunch. May you continue to serve those in Oakland with kindness and punk rock for many years to come.