In June, the INDY visited the filmmaker Katina Parker’s Durham carport. In it, and the surrounding yard, the sprawling operations of Feed Durham—a “scrappy, determined mutual aid collective”—had come together at the onset of the pandemic to cook for Durham and try to help meet the city’s growing hunger needs. In that conversation, Parker anticipated the long year ahead. 

“I think this is just beginning, in terms of the protests and COVID,” she said. “We already knew 2020 was going to be messy because of the election. There’s rumors of white supremacists trying to build a race war. Doing this feels good. Protesting and getting social change takes years.”

By and large, these predictions have proved accurate. The election was, and continues to be, messy. White supremacy looms large. Food insecurity is becoming an urgent public health crisis. And even with hopes of a vaccine on the horizon, COVID hospitalizations are at an all-time high. So: Katina Parker and Feed Durham volunteers have kept cooking. 

This December’s cookout, a four-day operation that takes place between December 16 and 19, will be the organization’s sixth. It will also mark the ten-thousandth meal that Feed Durham has cooked and distributed. Meals go to community members and are distributed through partnerships with organizations like Student UUrban Ministries, and The Mustard Seed Project.

Fundraising is still urgent; with the cook-off still a few days away, Parker hopes to raise around $25,000 to cover cook-off costs like groceries, equipment rentals, and cooking supplies. She also provides subsidies for volunteers who are out of work. 

The rigors of COVID have kept Parker running a tight ship—volunteers are required to either isolate for two weeks before volunteering, or get tested and quarantine until pulling an all-day cookout shift. Feed Durham hasn’t had any infection scares yet, she says, and they plan for it to “stay that way.”

After all, Feed Durham plans to stick around. Alongside the December fundraising, the organization is also trying to raise money to fund two part-time positions in the new year which will “work at root causes of food insecurity in our neighborhoods through food education and practical interventions.” 

“All food isn’t good food,” Parker wrote in an email to the INDY. “That’s been our biggest challenge—convincing others that our hungriest neighbors deserve culturally-familiar, tasty, nutrient-dense foods, especially during a public health crisis. Many people believe ‘beggars can’t be choosers,’ but food is medicine. Food is also respect—what we offer to one another is how we honor one another.”

At historic demonstrations like Standing Rock and Ferguson, where she’d worked as a filmmaker and activist, Parker had watched the way community members came together to feed people in a crisis. Months after beginning her own crisis-cooking initiative, she’s dispensing those lessons back out into the wider community. Food has always been integral to liberation; people need to eat. 

“The shelters have waiting lists and everyone won’t qualify,” Parker wrote. “If we don’t get a stimulus package by New Years Eve, millions of people are in danger of being evicted and losing their unemployment income….This is a man-made disaster of untold proportions. Read: entirely preventable.”

But, she continued, “When we help one another, we always make a way for ourselves. Always.”

Visit Feed Durham’s fundraising page for more information or to lend support.

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