Punks with Lunch: Small Group with a Big Mission

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Thursday, May 2, 2019, 8:23 am
Sarah Spohn

Photos courtesy of Punks with Lunch Lansing.

Two summers ago, Julia Anne Miller was introduced to a unique DIY nonprofit, called West Oakland Punks With Lunch. Miller had previously volunteered with other food pantries, and shelters, but wanted to create a more organized unit.

In September 2017 Miller co-founded a local chapter, Punks with Lunch Lansing. The not-for-profit outreach organization is a guerilla style, DIY group that provides food and necessities to people in need throughout the greater Lansing area.

Punks with Lunch Lansing’s first official donation drive was in November 2017. “When we had our first donation drive, I contacted a friend who had been involved with the Lansing chapter of Food Not Bombs,” said ‘Head Punk’ Miller. “They suggested that we have a fundraiser at The Avenue … it was early winter, and we took donations of winter wear, lunch bags, peanut butter and jelly, snacks, and cash.”

With the money raised that evening, Punks with Lunch Lansing was able to hold their first outreach. While the group does not provide shelter, they work closely with local shelters, and food banks, referring those who need assistance or supplies.

There are about 10-15 people within the organization that regularly donate their time, helping package lunches, and distributing socks, underwear, coats, hygiene supplies, and harm-reduction supplies. The mobile organization’s first home was People’s Kitchen, and they have had fundraisers at The Avenue, Mac’s Bar and Everybody Reads, and The Fledge.

Many local businesses have stepped up to help them in their mission, including Westlunds Apple Market, which donates ham, cheese, and snacks and East Lansing’s Foods for Living. Helping Women Period has donated menstrual products, Footprints of Lansing donates shoes and boots, and Lansing Area AIDS network provides safe sex kits. “It’s absolutely a community effort,” Miller said.

“We don’t operate 24/7, but if we get a message or call about someone in need, we will do our best to answer that call and be sort of a ‘first responder’ to fill the gap,” Miller said. “We also have conducted clean-up events in the area. We went out during winter storms looking for people in need, to get them to shelters or warming centers. We basically just look for what we can do, and do it. It’s a very DIY, ‘be the change you want to see’ viewpoint.”

In the winter of 2018, the Lansing State Journal reported that Miller and her partner had been arrested by Lansing police while passing out free tokens at the CATA bus station during a polar vortex on behalf of Punks with Lunch.The couple says they questioned police over their plans to force homeless people outside into the cold, leading to the arrests. 

Long term goals include creating a community center, with a warming center, soup kitchen, and food pantry. The group’s current goal is to end homeless, and the stigma that often surrounds it. They aim to build a more supportive community, one sack lunch at a time.

“So many people think it’s all lazy people who are addicts, when there’s a slew of factors: job loss, houses being red-tagged, increase in rental prices, kids aging out of the foster system and being unprepared, mental illness, disabilities, people leaving abusive situations … yes, there are people who have problems with addiction, but that’s not nearly the only or main factor.”

Providing lunches and everyday items is a way to connect to a pocket of the population Miller said otherwise feels unwelcome, and unworthy.

“We might not end the issues that create homelessness just by giving a lunch, or a few supplies, but these are the people who have been told by most of society that they are not wanted, they are worthless,” she said. “If we can act in kindness and show that someone cares … actually build a relationship, have a conversation, and connect with them – it’s the beginning of them seeing the value in themselves again; and hopefully taking the steps needed to get themselves into a better situation.”

Punks with Lunch Lansing is also quick to help after events like vehicle problems, house fires, or floods. “We try to be there as much as possible to fulfill needs when they occur,” Miller said.

The organization is in need of lunch snacks, sacks, new underwear, deodorant, travel sized shampoo, and spring jackets. Punks with Lunch will be at Mac’s Bar this Friday, May 3 for the Cavalcarnival!, at 7 p.m., and at the Hive on Saturday, assembling and distributing lunches and supplies from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.


[Editor's note: this article was updated on May 3 at 7:42 AM to add the information that members of the organization were arrested in the course of their work for Punks with Lunch.]




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