A group of G-20 arrivals, hassled from spot to spot throughout Pittsburgh since last Friday, has set up shop in Trinity Lutheran Church’s parking lot in the Central Northside.
Everybody’s Kitchen and Seeds of Peace, itinerant groups who make it their mission to give free meals to protesters and those in need, got permission to use the parking lot on Buena Vista Street for the week from Pastor John Kawkins.
When they arrived on Friday, the 30-odd group members had parked their converted school bus and other vehicles on leased property under the Bloomfield Bridge. But after police — arriving in a caravan of 16 vehicles, according to the group — raided their camp on Monday night, the cooking collective moved to an abandoned school in Larimer.
That only lasted a day before the property owner was pressured by police to kick them off the property.
After calling dozens of churches in the phone book, de facto leader Floppy, as he likes to be called, said they caught a break with Pastor Kawkins.
The pastor gave them a signed paper on church letterhead to show they had permission if police questioned them again.
And they did. Police showed up at the behest of concerned neighbors twice on Tuesday, once close to midnight when someone reported seeing a gun wielded on the property. Officers arrived, heckled group members and searched the encampment, according to Floppy, but didn’t find anything.
Floppy, who co-founded the group in Florida in 1992, said he doesn’t know what all the fuss is about.
“This is a support group, this isn’t an action group,” he said. “We’re cooking here and we’re shuttling it to protesters.”
But that message hasn’t reached some Central Northside residents, who have been lighting up the blogosphere with irate postings on Chat Northside, a neighborhood message board.
“I don't want protesters on my street. We have enough traffic problems and headaches with the church,” Frank Tallarico wrote Tuesday afternoon. “We don't need the added problems from a group that has already been kicked out of their previous location which will attract additional attention, press etc.”
Group members didn’t hide their exhaustion from the constant moving. They said they were determined to stick it out and provide the free meals.
Everybody’s Kitchen’s diesel-powered bus, its third since forming, is outfitted with an industrial stovetop and they and Seeds of Peace also have propane grills.
Boxes and bags of potatoes, onions and other vegetables sat on tables under a tarp stretched between the groups’ two school buses.
Members of both groups studied a city map taped to the side of one of the buses. With streets Downtown closed to most vehicles tomorrow, they were busy determining the routes to their different drop-off points.
The groups also own a pickup truck and two vans, which they refer to as “run” vehicles, which they use to shuttle cooked meals from the encampment to various groups of protesters.
“Our focus is sharing food, not feeding people,” said Floppy, admitting he does not intend for hungry protesters to come to him.
Floppy said the turnout of protesters has been low so far, but he expects more in the next few days.
“We’ve only been doing hundreds [of meals],” he said before adding, “We’re prepared to do thousands.”
Both groups receive most of their food from donations. Shops in the Strip District have donated vegetables so far, but group members are faithful that they will receive more donations in the coming days.
Before coming to Pittsburgh, Everybody’s Kitchen was cooking in Rockcreek, W.Va., at a protest against mountain top removal. Their organization is funded by the odd jobs that members find and small donations.
Floppy said he thinks neighbors’ disgruntlement will wear out, since the group won’t be there for long.
“We’re not going to need the full week because Friday night [the G-20] will be over, and Saturday we’ll be cleaning up.”