EOT 380- Meals for the Masses

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Ennis Wells 0:00
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Hello, and welcome to WKNC public affairs program Eye on the Triangle. My name is Ennis wells, and I am currently joined in the WKNC Studio by Michael Scipioni and Benny Koval from the Raleigh food distribution group Meals for the Masses. Since 2020, Meals for the Masses has provided weekly free meals to Raleigh's homeless and working class residents. I'm chatting with them today to learn a little bit more about the service, how it runs, and the political mission behind it. Thank you both for joining me today.

Benny Koval 1:12
Thank you, Ennis. We're excited to be here.

Michael Scipioni 1:14
Thank you for having us.

Ennis Wells 1:15
So I explained it briefly. But can you fill our listeners in some more on what Meals for the Masses is?

Benny Koval 1:21
Yes, thank you meals for the masses is a revolutionary communist food program based in Raleigh, we serve once a week, every Sunday three to 5pm. Anywhere between 50 and 80 people. we are not doing this, to just distribute food. We're not trying to end hunger, we know that is impossible, in economism, to focus on it in that way. We have a communist understanding of things that meaning capital requires mass suffering, especially in the form of hunger and homelessness as a part of the reserve army of labor, which is basically what most homeless people fall into in this area. And we, most of our volunteers at this moment are currently housed, which is always subject to change, as we know, and is a big motivator in this work that we do. But we are in solidarity with unhoused people for a variety of reasons. But these are some of the most exploited and dehumanized and oppressed people in society. And we see that it is all to the benefit of the capitalists and non to our communities. And we understand that the homelessness is a requirement for capitalism to continue developing. It's a you know, they have no access to cheap labor, cheap labor, and people that will take any job, because that is the condition they've been forced into. And as working class people we know that is reducing the standard of living for the entire working class. And it's you know, I mean, it's despicable, right, like, on an emotional level like it's, you know, enraging. So we want to build power as a whole working class, which definitely includes on house people, homeless people.

Michael Scipioni 3:14
Well, and just to add to the, you know, talking about houseless people, and, you know, are volunteers who do have homes, while we're also dealing with homeless people, you know, it's also very important to always remember that many people who have homes and houses are only a few difficulties away from experiencing the same level of struggle or crisis, whether that's food scarcity, or homelessness. And again, that's the system that capitalism has designed for us. So instead of, you know, looking at homelessness as Okay, that's something happening to somebody else, it should also be remembered that that is something that we all can face. And that is a threat that hangs over our heads. And it's cliche to say that I think at this point, but most people in the United States are far closer to being homeless or facing food scarcity than they are to being a millionaire. That's just the reality of the situation.

Benny Koval 4:00
In bourgeois society, wealth grows, one section of the working class gets piled on with work is hyper exploited, and the other half is doomed to like intermittent unemployment, and homelessness and hunger, and that that hole is getting is getting wider.

Ennis Wells 4:18
So you're more than just the food distribution group.

Michael Scipioni 4:21
Absolutely. Yes. Like while we do work with food scarcity and providing food, that is simply just a point of struggle where we are also, you know, engaging in a visible area, building relationships, getting community member input, and you know, working towards that revolutionary change.

Ennis Wells 4:37
Yeah. So I noticed in your social media bios, you say that food is a human right. Can you tell me some more about that?

Michael Scipioni 4:44
Sure. Yeah. I mean, we fundamentally believe that food is a human right. And that essentially comes down to the way that we understand capitalism and understand the fight against it. We understand that capitalism has specifically created the conditions is where food scarcity exists, that is not necessarily a natural thing for humans to have, you know, typically, at least in the state of nature, humans do have the ability to provide for themselves and get the food that they need. But with this system that has been set up for us over centuries, that becomes increasingly difficult. And we believe that no food is a human right, in the same way that water should be, housing should be good air quality, you know, being able to simply be a human on Earth requires that you have food. So we fundamentally believe that that is a human right. Cool.

Ennis Wells 5:39
So was this political ideology, your mission, always an integral part of your group? Or was it something that developed along the way,

Benny Koval 5:47
we've been a Marxist organization from the beginning, but through struggle, and through developing connections, we have changed some of our approaches are we, we work within the Marxist tradition and use. We use a variety of tools from the Marxist tradition, whatever we're going to need in the moment, whatever we find useful, so we have the course of our three years of existence, we have focused more on implementing mass line, just finding that as a very useful tool. We're working with social investigation to get a good understanding of what the what the common issues are among the downtown Raleigh community, which includes homeless workers. You know, just it's, it's just the working class of Raleigh.

Michael Scipioni 6:45
Yeah, and if I can just add to that, too, yeah. You know, meals for the masses, were definitely a Marxist organization, you know, strictly anti capitalist, obviously. But we don't necessarily identify with any specific tendency within that tradition. And we do borrow heavily from different traditions within the broader socialist movement. So, you know, that includes things such as, you know, a Marxist understanding of capitalism and analysis, implementing Mass Line and mass perspective and understanding that at the end of the day, you know, reform can only get you so far. And that actually, genuine change is going to come through massive revolutionary change.

Ennis Wells 7:24
Yeah. So then you briefly mentioned it, but how has getting out there and interacting with the people altered or influenced how your group proceeds?

Benny Koval 7:35
That's a great question. So one of our early Mass Line developments was the creation of this organization called ROTO, reach one teach one, this organization is focusing on housing equity, and the members of Meals for the Masses are involved with this, as well as homeless people in the community more square. And we essentially work together to push these struggles forward.

Michael Scipioni 8:04
And just to add to that, you know, so like, an organization like ROTO, kind of is an example of how we actually implement, you know, the work that we do regarding mass line. So, you know, that is a specific kind of, I guess, you can say, formation that comes out of the social investigation that we've done, and interacting with the masses. So those are actual, you know, people that we've served before people that we've actually met in the community along with meals for the masses members. And, you know, this kind of group of people can be mobilized to attempt to address local concerns. A lot of times, those are specifically regarding homelessness, or, you know, the rate of commercial development in downtown Raleigh, and also just issues of social benefits and public welfare.

Ennis Wells 8:51
So, also, I wanted to ask why your group uses the word homeless, as opposed to the other words like unhoused, or houseless.

Michael Scipioni 9:03
Yeah. So, you know, this has been, I think, a point of discourse for some time now regarding how people use these two different terms like homelessness, verse houseless, or an houseless individual. So the reason that we use the word homeless is because we understand that homelessness is more than just not having a house or shelter. You know, this is a situation specifically created by the capitalist system. So, you know, not having a home. Not having a shelter also has a direct effect on people's mental, physical and emotional health. So it's not just that capitalism creates the conditions where somebody cannot afford a house or may lose their house. It also creates the conditions where people lose the ability to have a place they truly call home. And that includes, you know, being part of an actual community and having their needs met. So we specifically refer to homelessness and not houses house lessness when discussing this issue, And, you know, at the at the end of the day, that's just the way that we see it and how we use that terminology,

Benny Koval 10:06
if I can add on too, it may be different in other cities, but when you go among the masses in Raleigh, you will find that they are self identify self identifying as homeless, not houseless. And we want to, you know, be in line with what the understanding is of the community.

Michael Scipioni 10:23
Yes. And that's, and that's a great point, actually, too, because, you know, again, our work is also informed by a mass perspective. So it understands the masses, as you know, the makers of history, you know, the people who ultimately need to lead the charge for revolutionary change. So also just simply understanding where they're coming from, how they identify, and how they see their own lives, their own interactions with society. You know, that's key and adapting to that language and understanding it, pushing it forward is important to our work as well.

Ennis Wells 10:54
Nice. So, back to some more basic questions. How long have you guys been involved in Meals for the Masses?

Benny Koval 11:02
As individuals?

Ennis Wells 11:03

Benny Koval 11:05
I think I'm approaching two something years, but my levels of involvement have varied a lot over that time. So I've worked in the social media department, I've worked in bookkeeping, and I've just recently started cooking more regularly for meals. It's a big, it all depends on time and commitments and stuff.

Michael Scipioni 11:27
Yeah, it's definitely a time commitment. For me, as well, I would say, I've started maybe in the last two years as well. I don't necessarily think from the jump. But you know, of course, I had comrades in meals for the masses who were doing that great work, and I wanted to become involved. So, you know, my work has generally consisted of working in the social media realm of things, you know, just amplifying the work that we do, you know, different calls for, you know, fundraising or calls to action and things such as that. And of course, doing distribution work as well, I actually showing up and trying to serve when I have the ability to

Ennis Wells 12:04
so and then the whole organization, when did that come about?

Benny Koval 12:08
That is August 2020. And we were at first serving in the park directly until a few months in that was October it was raining, so we brought a tent. And you know, the Raleigh pigs came up to us, of course, they were like, You guys can't be in here with a tent, bla bla bla. And luckily for us, some homeless people that were staying under the ESSO building, just like that little white, you know, shelter across the street from Square burger, invited us over there so that we could continue serving. And that was kind of a, a really important moment for us to be invited where somebody sleeps, you know? And it was like, yeah, a community moment. So we went over there. And we were able to serve despite the rain, and the police couldn't bother us. And ever since then we've been serving there every Sunday.

Ennis Wells 12:53
So it's the you said s o building?

Benny Koval 12:56
SO e ss o building

Unknown Speaker 12:58

Michael Scipioni 12:59
it's on the corner of East Martin Street in South persons Street, right across from more square.

Ennis Wells 13:03
And at 3pm.

Michael Scipioni 13:05
Yes, from 3pm, typically is three to five every Sunday. You know, we start at three, we try our best to start at three. And of course, you know, that also depends on how many people show up how much food we have to provide that day. But typically a three to five window, that's when we're there.

Ennis Wells 13:22
So since then, you've been serving at that same building, because there has that been a good location for you guys.

Benny Koval 13:29
It has been Yeah, we have to really tighten up and resist the coming gentrification of Raleigh, because we will lose that spot. In the next two years or so that's when construction is going to start. Loading, South's redevelopment gentrification proposal was accepted by the City of Raleigh, to make some seriously awful changes in the area. So

Michael Scipioni 13:53
yes, yeah, ironically, you know, it is such a good spot specifically, because the local community understands that we're actually doing the work there. and word of mouth, I think, has played a role in, you know, getting other people to turn out, you know, hearing about the work that we do there. And again, it is unfortunate that gentrification and you know, just the level of development Raleigh is experiencing, could jeopardize that or at least complicate things. We're not exactly the type of people to give up. But, yeah, it is definitely an ongoing struggle, and we'll see kind of where new developments take us.

Ennis Wells 14:29
Okay, and do you guys cook all the food yourself? Or where does the food come from?

Benny Koval 14:35
Yes, we do. We cook we cook all the food ourselves, right? We get our produce from an organization called produce box, which kind of gives excess produce from farmers and local institutions to volunteer organization. So we got it from there. And then you know, we make Costco trips when we need to, but we really try to keep costs down to a minimum.

Michael Scipioni 14:57
Yeah, I was just gonna add to that Um, that, you know, when it comes to the food as well, you know, we definitely focus on trying to provide those actual home cooked meals, you know, hot food that people can actually enjoy. We have several of those. And of course, we also serve, pour drinks, juice, tea, soda, water, even ice cream when we have the ability to, and yeah.

Ennis Wells 15:21
Is there a funding arm to your operation? Or is it all self funded donations?

Michael Scipioni 15:26
Yeah, so, you know, we do rely on donations to fund our work. And we, you know, frequently were able to make the money last week, the funding, last of you know, we are as a cost as cost effective as we can be. And then you know, those calls for fundraising go out every once in a while, when it's when we understand, okay, we need to re up, get back into it. And, you know, make sure that we have the funding to continue the work.

Ennis Wells 15:53
Nice. So, does meals for the masses have any plans you can tell us about for the future, or goals you all hope to reach?

Michael Scipioni 16:03
I mean, you know, we definitely have quite a few, you know, again, like in line with, you know, the work within the masses and engaging in Mass Line. You know, a lot of our work comes down to social investigation, you know, as we're serving that food as we're communicating with community members, you know, what issues are they raising that we could take on as goals to attempt to address or provide a plan for, in addition to you know, local issues, such as that of working with, you know, groups like, you know, reach one teach one a refund Raleigh, we are also part of the black lines for peace, Solidarity Network, and organization, I would highly recommend people checking out. You know, as members of the Solidarity Network, we are part of the Solidarity Network, because black lines for peace is a black African organization. But, you know, non black and non African people can join as Solidarity Network members and our organization, you can also join as a member org. So, we're currently doing great work with them dealing with the zone of peace campaign, and also with stop cop city, two campaigns that I think people should also check out as well. And, you know, a lot of that simply comes down to raising awareness and trying to see how we can get organized to deal with those larger issues, and also relate them to our very specific local issues here in Raleigh.

Benny Koval 17:18
Other than that, our goals are to remain consistent, keep serving every Sunday, keep that space occupied, and to continue canvassing the community and get a good feel for like Michael was saying, what the big contradictions are. Our last Canvas, we were informing people about refund rallies art day, which was a community mural project, and also talking to people about public bathroom access, which is a really big, I mean, one of the ways that the capitalists deny homeless people of you know, humanity, it's very dehumanizing how the bathroom issue is treated. So, canvassing on that getting a feel for what yeah, what people are currently going through. And you meet you meet a lot of a lot of really interesting people when you canvass. And I really recommend it. It's a we're always welcome to more volunteers hopping on and helping us out with that, we get you know, we compile a list of questions that we would like to ask people and get a better understanding of and then we bring those back to the group and see what we find. You meet people that have been homeless for 15/20 years that have invaluable knowledge, and you wouldn't get it otherwise.

Ennis Wells 18:31
Yeah. Where can people find out some more information about meals for the masses? Or how to donate to you all?

Michael Scipioni 18:38
Yeah, so you can find us on all social media platforms, we are on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Our Twitter specifically is at MFTM919. And you can follow us there. We, you know, try our best to post every week when we're doing that work. And you can kind of see the food that we're serving. And if there are calls for fundraising, we typically put them on social media as well, if you would, if anybody was ever interested in donating to us or supporting the work that we do, you can find us on PayPal, it's paypal.me/mftm, Raleigh. You can also contribute to our cash app. It's it's simply meals for the masses. capitalize the first letter of each one of those words. And of course, MF tm raleigh@gmail.com. You can also reach out to us there. And as far as anything else goes, Yeah, again, you know, we're down there every Sunday if somebody's interested in getting involved. You know, it's it starts with just coming out there seeing the work that we do, and just talking to people.

Benny Koval 19:42
Yeah, the best way to get involved with us is to just come on a Sunday at 3pm to try to be on time.

Ennis Wells 19:47
Perfect. Is there anything else either of you would like to add?

Benny Koval 19:51
Yeah. About Us cooking our meals. A big part of that is we we listen to the people that we serve, right? Like if somebody has feedback on a certain dish? We actually will we seek that out. And we want to know what people want to eat. We have budgetary limits, you know, like we can't always have like, meat, we try our best. But yeah, we just listened to people. And that was like a very important moment for gaining respect and trust in the community that plus our consistency with serving.

Michael Scipioni 20:22
Yes, absolutely. And I would just add to that, again, that goes back to our basic principles of actually working among the masses, hearing them and then actually trying to provide something and that includes even something as simple as just what food are we cooking? How are we cooking it? What type of changes would maybe they want, you know, we're not here to, you know, walk up to the masses and essentially say, this is what you're going to eat. This is the problem and this is how you fix it. It's hearing what they want. It's hearing what they consider to be their main issues and struggles that they're dealing with and then, you know, trying to work with the masses to come up with some type of solution or address that concern.

Benny Koval 20:58
One more thing I had to add if anyone who is listening is interested in getting involved in any local organizations working towards liberation refund rally freedom committee is a great option. You should definitely check them out. They are on any social media that you can think of. And obviously come see us. We are there every Sunday three to five and we're always looking for new volunteers. So come on by

Michael Scipioni 21:22
We're very chill good vibes. Yeah.

Ennis Wells 21:25
Good to hear.

You just heard Eye on the Triangle is interview with Meals for the Masses. A self described revolutionary communist food group operates right here in downtown Raleigh. Huge thanks to them for coming out to WKNC and speaking with me about their work.

Next up on this episode of Eye on the Triangle, I've got some various other Triangle news stories to share with you. First, the Supreme Court ruled last Thursday against the practice of affirmative action. Although this ruling has obvious national implications, it also specifically involves us right here in the triangle. Since the case directly reviewed the admissions process of UNC Chapel Hill. As concisely as I can put it, Affirmative action is a set of procedures by which colleges and universities include consideration of an applicant's race, alongside of course their test scores and grades during the admissions process in efforts to provide those from historically marginalized communities with uplifting educational opportunities. So this recent ruling reviewed the practices of Harvard and UNC Chapel Hill, and what was technically two separate cases since Harvard is a private institution, while Chapel Hill is a public institutions. So they tested the constitutionality of both institutions at once. Both of these cases were brought to court in 2014 by the conservative group students for fair admissions, who argue that it is unconstitutional to have race conscious admission decisions. But specifically within the case against UNC, the FFA argued that UNC admissions process violated the 14th amendment. When this case was in front of the federal district court, in 2020, the judge actually sided with UNC they're noting the university's racial history. But the Supreme Court overturned that ruling saying that the university failed to provide any measurable objectives to justify the use of this practice. Reactions amongst the UNC community have been somewhat split with student groups such as UNC for affirmative action, speaking out very strongly against the decision. But UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz with released a statement that quote, well, not the outcome we hoped for we respect the Supreme Court's decision and will follow its guidance in quote. So while this specific cases over, we'll have to keep watching to find out the exact ramifications of this decision, such as Will it change our perception of the admissions process? Or will it change the racial makeup of these universities? affirmative action policies have been in practice since the early 1960s. And it bounced around in the courts ever since. So we'll have to see if this is really the end of it or if some other procedure for ensuring equity and diversity arises. I found it interesting that the first African American students were admitted to UNC in the 1950s. And then this practice came around in the 1960s. So it's really been intertwined. And with the University for a long time, and I'm wondering what will happen. So yeah, and also for those wondering NC State did use affirmative action policies in its admissions process too, so we can watch out for its effects over here as well.
Next story. Coastal Carolina credit union foundation is giving a $78,000 grant to five organizations including housing for new hope in Durham to help fight homelessness. Housing for New Hope is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help those with homelessness in Durham to find safe permanent housing, plus the tools and support to stay there. So this grant will help them to continue with that mission. You can find out more about housing for new hope at housing for new hope.org.
Last month, the South Atlantic salt marsh initiative released their new plan to preserve 1 million acres of salt marshes from NC to East Central Florida. Allegedly 14% to 34% of existing salt marshes along the South Atlantic could be lost by 2060 If oceans continue to rise as expected, so they produce his plan over the last two years to help secure the future of the marsh by doing things like securing adjacent land so that the marsh can move inwards as sea levels rise, and also elevating new roads so it doesn't affect the wildlife there. Researchers from Duke University have estimated that the salt marshes hold 64 million tons of carbon dioxide. So this would be an important move to storing greenhouse gas in our environment in decreasing the effects of global warming. This is a big plan. So it needs the cooperation of various partners and agencies to happen since it's across multiple states and communities, only some in North Carolina so this will be an ongoing development, and you can find more about the plan at Marshfoward.org.
The city of Raleigh's water came in third place in an international contest for the best drinking water. winners were decided by a panel of judges that included trained water profilers, who participated in a blind taste test. The city of Miramichi in Canada won first place, then a city in Colorado came in second and Raleigh third, so shout out Raleigh. Most of Raleigh's water comes from the Falls Lake reservoir located in northern Wake County, and then it's treated in the E M Johnson water treatment plant. So thanks to all of them for their hard work, and for bringing us this international attention.
And last but not least, skate Raleigh. The organization that Eye on the Triangle interviewed back in April has finally opened at skate park, located in downtown Raleigh, it is currently open from dawn till dusk. But allegedly once they get the light set up, it'll be open 24/7. The founder Steven Mangano says that they plan to keep updating the features over the summer and as the park grows, and they're just excited to finally open this community space. So if you need something to do check it out.

Thank you all for listening to this episode of Eye on the Triangle WKNC 88.1 FM HD-1 Raleigh's public affairs program. You can listen back to this episode or past episodes such as our skate raleigh interview on wknc.org/podcast music for this episode is titled Noahs Stark and was made available by the artists Krakatoa through Creative Commons license. Check wknc.org/schedule to catch the next episode of Eye on the Triangle live. And I will see you then. Thank you!

Creators and Guests

Ennis Wells
Ennis Wells
Public Affairs Director (summer 2023)
EOT 380- Meals for the Masses
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