A day after 30 people were shot, two fatally, at Brooklyn Homes, residents slowly approached a tent for food and water as J.C. Faulk from Bmore Community Food scrambled to bring resources together to a neighborhood that had needed help long before the July tragedy.
Amid the searing heat, a woman grabbed a Minute Maid beverage and took it to the trunk of her car.
“You should get another one,” Faulk told her.
His organization has distributed millions of pounds of food over the years that distributors, such as Amazon and Walmart, give to his organization after it reaches its expiration date. He donates the still edible food to groups and residents in the city’s low-income, mostly Black and historically disenfranchised neighborhoods.
He said it’s his way of mitigating racism that has driven away resources, including grocery stores and food wholesalers. If getting food should be “as easy as breathing,” Faulk said, far too many Black neighborhoods are gasping for air.
“And that place is one of them,” Faulk said, referring to Brooklyn Homes.
But a fire in June to the truck he uses to deliver food forced him to put efforts on hold. Security footage showed what looks like a young man in the early hours of June 18 walking toward the truck, his face suddenly brightening up as he nears the video camera. He is seen throwing something, and the video flashes. The resulting fire destroyed Faulk’s truck, he said, which was covered by insurance, and $80,000 worth of food. Faulk doesn’t believe the fire was an accident, but the police investigation has not led to any suspects.
His work suddenly became harder, but the fire didn’t set him back for long. When a friend called him about the Brooklyn shooting, Faulk borrowed a truck from Pedro Rodriguez, who has picked up food from Faulk two to three times a week for years to take to a predominantly Latino church in Cockeysville. Rodriguez thinks that what Faulk has done for his community is huge, and he wanted to express his gratitude.
It’s just one of the ways that Faulk’s organization has had to shift gears since the fire.
And Faulk thinks the organization has come out better and stronger: One distributor sent $80,000-$120,000 worth of meat after hearing about the fire, and Faulk has sent food to other states through a trucking company, Farm Link, he has since partnered with.
Towering boxes upon boxes — think fruit cups, snacks and beverages — line the 11,000 feet warehouse on 24th Street, where he oversees operations. On a good month, they run “curbside pickups” in eight to 11 locations, depending on how much food they have. They have given away almost 2 million pounds of food so far this year, double what used to take them a year to distribute.
Faulk said he found distributors and partners almost accidentally, by being in the right place at the right time. He met Safire Windley, who works for the organization, through a friend. Windley, who used to teach children how to cook, sees food as a universal language, like music. And what a gift to bring people together, to make someone’s life a little bit lighter, she said.
Sometimes, she said, they are first responders, as with Brooklyn Homes. Other times, someone calls in asking for food.
“I’m a Black woman. I was a single mother,” she said. “I know how it feels when you are trying to feed your child.”
Faulk has a goal for the nonprofit displayed on a whiteboard in a conference room: 10 million pounds in 2025.
Those who work with him, like Windley, believe in the goal, too, and that they will also help feed Baltimore by educating people about food waste through partnerships they’ve established with the city public schools. They want to teach about food safety, waste and labeling.
They know the stats by heart at this point: The U.S. wastes about 30% to 40% of the food supply, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Much of it comes from the retail sector — supermarkets, supercenters and food wholesalers, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — which generates 13 million tons of food waste. Sixty percent of the food waste is landfilled, composted, combusted or sent to animal feed, while the rest is donated.
Food justice activists have long argued that hunger stems from waste and unequal distribution. Nearly 1 in 4 Baltimoreans live in neighborhoods where access to healthy and affordable food is scarce, or “food deserts,” according to a 2018 report from Johns Hopkins University’s Center for a Livable Future. Black residents are disproportionately affected. About 32% of Black Baltimoreans live in food deserts, compared to 11% of Hispanic residents and 9% of white residents, according to the report.
When former Gov. Larry Hogan shut down nonessential businesses in April of 2020 during the COVID crisis, Faulk thought of his mother, a widow who cared for six children. She depended on the school system to provide breakfast and lunch to for her kids, Faulk said, and she could serve them dinner and snacks. But many parents in her position did not have that added support during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, particularly when schools closed. That’s why he started his non-profit.
“It’s been amazing, you know, to be the guy who was hungry a lot when I was kid,” he said. “And now I’m responsible for sending millions of pounds [of food] here and outside of the city.”
He began to make calls to restaurants and grocery stores asking for their leftovers. He thought he could spare two to three hours a day for a few weeks, driving his own car to help some people out. But soon he was working full-time as more people began to reach out to him with donations. From there, he took the donated food to a small restaurant that had a walk-in refrigerator and freezer.
Now he’s looking to expand into a 14,000-square-foot building by next year. He has partnerships with distributors such as Dannon, Dole, Walmart and Amazon. Some of the food is months away from expiration, he said. In their first year of operation, Amazon donated almost a million pounds of food, Faulk said, of which only a small percentage was expired.
Faulk and the volunteers who work with him try to keep things light. They “trash talk,” he said, and joke around, and residents smile and laugh back. But when he looks at them in the eyes, there’s something there he can’t quite place. Not cynicism, exactly, he says, but a sense of defeat.
Emily Stucke has volunteered with the organization since the summer of 2020.
The past few months since the truck fire has been the longest break the organization has ever had to take, she said. Still, more than 100 people showed up on Aug. 5 for a soft return of the warehouse on 24th Street, she said. Faulk is hoping to fully return to operations in the next two weeks, including at Brooklyn Homes. He drops food at eight to 11 locations weekly in Sandtown-Winchester, Douglass Homes, McCulloh Homes and Greenmount West.
Months after his first visit to Brooklyn Homes, he says he had never seen such sadness in Baltimore. He recalls the Freddie Gray uprising, which led him to activism.
But that day in Brooklyn Homes broke him. He had never been in Brooklyn Homes or heard about it before the shooting, he said.
“But ... the city knows the condition that they live in out there,” he said.