The Free Breakfast Movement of the Black Panther Party
At Food Finders, we always work with community partners to help feed food-insecure communities in Southern California. Our food rescue operations and programs are working to stop food waste by rescuing food from area businesses. We are on a mission to eliminate hunger by delivering this rescued food to local area nonprofits that can distribute the food to people in need. For 34 years, we have been feeding people and preventing food waste from further damaging our climate. Still, we can only do so much to make significant changes to the barriers and challenges preventing communities from thriving and nourishing their families.
During Black History Month, we wanted to explore the changemakers to food justice. Most people don’t think of the Black Panther Party as a leader in food justice. Still, one of the fundamental aspects of the Party was its commitment to serving black communities through various social programs, including ambulance services, health clinics, and the creation of schools. Their most successful social program was the Free Breakfast for Children Program, which provided food for children across the United States.
In 1966, when the Black Panther Party was established, they knew that the children in Oakland, California, were hungry and did not have access to nutritious meals. They understood that the ability to focus and be ready for school is much easier for a child if they have a nutritious breakfast to start the day learning. That is how the free breakfast program started ‘to help ensure kids had a healthy start to the day’.
By 1971, the Black Panthers had implemented programs in 36 cities across the United States. They served children meals in church basements, community centers, and local cafeterias. Thousand of free meals were served to thousands of young people. A little-known fact is that their efforts ultimately helped to inspire the National School Breakfast program, which expanded to all schools by 1975.
Here is a description from History.com:
The first BPP Breakfast Program opened in January 1969 at Father Earl A. Neil’s St. Augustine Episcopal Church in Oakland, California. On the first day of the Free for Children Breakfast Program, Party members fed eleven children. By the end of that week, the number rose to 135 children. According to BPP member Flores Forbes, Panthers “cooked, served the food, knocked on doors to let the people know which apartment the food was being served in.” Less than two months later, the Party opened up another breakfast program at San Francisco’s Sacred Heart Church.
In Los Angeles, Forbes and others spoke to parents and business owners, explaining how the Breakfast Program would help black children “grow and intellectually develop because children can’t learn on empty stomachs.” Forbes later recalled that the response was “overwhelming.” Breakfast Programs were springing up everywhere. During the height of the Party’s influence, the Los Angeles Breakfast Program provided food for an estimated 1,200 children per week. In New Orleans, the BPP’s Breakfast Program fed more than 300 children on a weekly basis.
As the BPP became overwhelmingly successful, it became mandatory for all chapters to have a Free Breakfast for Children Program. The minimum requirement for the Free Breakfast Program was an available space with tables and chairs for at least fifty people. Panther leaders requested a minimum of ten persons working—two persons on traffic control; one person at the sign in table; one person taking coats and hats; four servers; and two cooks. As a grassroots organization, the BPP relied on the support of ordinary men and women to help fund the Breakfast Programs and the organization as a whole. To that end, members of the Party organized a number of fundraising events in order to collect money, food, and kitchen supplies from local churches and businesses.https://www.history.com/news/free-school-breakfast-black-panther-party
Black History Month is an opportunity for everyone to learn more about the contributions of people of color in America. The free breakfast movement expanded by the Black Panther Party was a contribution that ultimately helped to feed millions of children who suffer from hunger in our country. Their dedication and sacrifice have lived on to help educate children and lift them out of poverty for over 50 years.
Food Finders and it’s over 500 community nonprofit partners hope to build on this legacy and make a long-lasting impact in the lives of children. We will end childhood hunger when we all understand how nourishment and education cannot be separated. Today we recognize and honor Huey Newton and Bobby Seale for their vision to empower their communities and feed their children.
To Learn More about the Black Panthers watch this PBS Documentary
To learn about Food Finders Food 4 Kids Program.
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