On Wednesday, millions across the country watched their smartphone and television screens in disbelief as an angry mob of rioters charged their way into the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. Charged up by a speech given just moments prior by President Trump, the massive group of his supporters, many of whom had flown in for the occasion, managed to breach Capitol barricades — smashing windows and scaling the building's balconies while brandishing flags and signs that read “Make America Great Again.” This was the first time the Capitol building had been breached in more than 200 years, since the War of 1812.
The attack on our nation’s capital not only resulted in evacuations, injuries and five deaths, including that of a police officer, but also caused fear and confusion for Washington, D.C. locals.
Just as grassroots organizers helped take charge of rallying voter participation during Georgia’s senate runoff elections earlier this week, local D.C. organizers and restaurants swooped in quickly to provide hot meals for displaced and homeless community members following the riot.
We spoke with Fuel the People co-founder Allegra Massaro about aid they were able to provide to their community yesterday — an effort she tells us is still ongoing and currently accepting volunteers.
For readers who aren't yet acquainted with the mission of Fuel the People, please tell us a little about how it got started and what you are working on right now.
Fuel the People got started six days after the murder of George Floyd. It got started at home in our kitchens, where we made homemade sandwiches and safety supply bags for protestors on the front lines. In a time of immense pain, anger and sadness, coming together to spread love through food and the spirit of mutual aid gave us a way to grieve, process and stand in solidarity.
As food has always been central to resistance, we wanted to also find a way to give back to and uplift local Black and POC-owned restaurants that were recovering from COVID-closures. Since June, in partnership with over 40 restaurants and chefs, we have fed over 40,000 protesters, voters, and food and housing insecure individuals and families in DC & NYC and are continuing to do this work.
What are Fuel the People's 2021 goals?
As we have been functioning as a grassroots organization, we are currently working to establish ourselves as a 501c3 organization. This will help us obtain more resources to continue to serve our communities.
Beyond supporting protests, some of our 2021 plans include: continuing to work to combat food insecurity in our cities by providing food and supplies to individuals and families in need, creating programming to support for formerly incarcerated people who are facing challenges related to reintegration (such as securing housing and food), continuing to support Black and POC-owned restaurants and chefs by using our monetary donations to buy food from them to give to our communities, and developing a volunteer-based program to aid these local Black and POC-owned restaurants with their business development needs.
When did you first hear about the riot that happened in DC yesterday?
I first heard about the riot through live videos on Instagram and was both shocked and not surprised all at once. As a Black woman and as an organizer that has been surrounded by police in riot gear while handing out food and PPE at peaceful protests, I cannot fathom the privilege of being able to scale and attack the Capitol Building and still make it home.
You responded quickly with aid for communities impacted by the attack. What prompted you to do this?
Friends and family reached out to make sure that I was safe and okay and I realized that the only reason I was both safe and okay is because I was three miles away from the Capitol and working from my home, which is a luxury that many do not have. While most of us were able to retreat indoors and were watching the mayhem live on social media, DC’s housing insecure communities were out there and at risk.
Our friends at Kyanite Kitchen acted quickly to start and lead a Rapid Response Assistance group chat with other mutual aid organizations where we could organize together to get folks safe rides home and into hotels and Airbnbs. Knowing that many rely on distributions that were cancelled due to the curfew and road closures, we began to organize to figure out how we could provide hot meals and supplies.
How did you guys make it happen so quickly and how did it go distributing the meals? Were there any special or emotional moments you'd like to share?
We owe it all to our mutual aid community, near and far. Mutual aid organizations have been organizing at the drop of a hat for months to do emergency response and have developed a system where we get things done by supporting each other and sharing resources. I sent out an SOS to our volunteers, put out a call to other organizations, placed orders for supplies on Instacart and began to reach out to our Black-owned restaurant partners throughout the DMV to put in meal orders. We were calling restaurant owners past 11:00 PM on Tuesday and as early as 7:00 AM on Wednesday. Every restaurant that we reached out to answered and agreed to help and have meals ready by 1:00 PM for pickup. For some restaurant owners, this meant coming in early or calling in extra employees, but no matter what, they wanted to help.
Over 30 volunteers met us in front of Union Station, where we brought all supplies and set up an assembly line to make supply bags with hand warmers, water, hand sanitizer, socks, hygiene products, face masks, sterno cups, and snacks. We split up the hot meals that we got from Chez Dior (lamb dibi and chicken yassa bowls), Heat da Spot Cafe (meatball subs, vegan sandwiches and tuna sandwiches), Shagga Restaurant (sambusas), and Po Boy Jim (pulled pork, shrimp, chicken, and vegan po boys). Together, we distributed hundreds of meals and supply bags to those in need at Union Station, NoMa, Eastern Market, Columbia Heights, Foggy Bottom, and McPherson Square.
Part of our mission at Fuel the People is to make sure that we are delivering food with dignity and compassion. We aim to always give people options and access to quality and delicious meals. There were so many emotional and encouraging moments in yesterday's distribution, but watching people's faces light up when they came over to get food and were offered lamb and couscous bowls or fried shrimp po' boys was definitely a highlight. Everyone deserves the chance to choose what they wish to eat and have access to restaurant quality meals. We are so grateful to the Black chefs and restaurant owners for the love they pour into the meals they provide.
Anything else you'd like to add about the charitable event or about the DC community as a whole?
I am overwhelmed with gratitude by the support that we received. So many people have lent their time, their money, their resources, and their platforms to support and amplify the work that we are doing. In the past 36 hours, we have received support from donors as far as Japan. Tuesday's attack at the Capitol Building and the passive policing that we witnessed were both obscene and disgraceful, but despite the darkness, this collective community came together, no questions asked, to support the most vulnerable in D.C. and shine so much light. DC is not just where the White House and Capitol Hill are; DC is our home, and here, we keep each other safe.
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