By Atiya Irvin-Mitchell
PITTSBURGH — In Pittsburgh 1 in 5 city residents are food insecure. Operating on a no-questions-asked and mentorship-driven model, Feed the Hood seeks to combat hunger at pop-up locations around the city.
On Friday afternoon to honor Antwon Rose, a 17-year-old killed by a police officer in June 2018, the organization will give away free meals in Hawkins Village, where the teenager lived.
“The day we chose [June 19] specifically was the date that Antwon was murdered, to just not forget his legacy,” Chef Carlos Thomas, founder of Feed the Hood, said.
Thomas, a 29-year-old Pittsburgh native founded his business, Confluence Catering in 2011, and in 2016 he founded Feed the Hood. The initiative was born from Thomas being told by a Westinghouse High School teacher that many students depended on the school for regular meals. After the information led to him delving into the rates of food insecurity throughout the commonwealth, Thomas decided to use his skills to combat hunger.
“It’s relative to what the Black Panthers and Huey Newton did with their free breakfast program,” Thomas explained. “We’re kind of treading the lines of that, the only difference is we do dinner.”
Thomas recalled his high school culinary class was the first time he’d ever met a black chef, and that the experience allowed him to see a future for himself in the field.
“There aren’t a lot of black farmers, there aren’t a lot of executive chefs, there aren’t a lot of black anything in the city of Pittsburgh to be honest,” Thomas said.
Over the years Feed the Hood has successfully fed 5,000 residents. Thomas wants to feed many more.
“A lot of chefs cook in high-end restaurants and for me, I just wanna cook, it’s more of a passion for me than working at the Ritz-Carlton,” Thomas said. “You know I can cook for anybody and I just developed this personal goal to feed the entire city for free.”
Prior to Rose’s death, Thomas and Shanon Williams, founder of the Wellness Collaborative, which Feed the Hood collaborates with, had met Rose. Thomas was interested in establishing a pop-up site in Hawkins Village so when Michelle Kinney, Rose’s mother, and Williams approached him in May it seemed like the stars had aligned.
“It’s just kind of our way of remembering him and showing the rest of the world that we didn’t forget what happened,” Thomas explained. “We still want justice, we still want peace, but we’re gonna do it how we see fit. Until we get those things we’re gonna take over the streets and feed our people.”
Thomas told The Pittsburgh Current that Feed the Hood has 500 meals earmarked for Hawkins Village. After Friday’s event there are plans to keep it as a distribution site.
Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a reporter for the Pittsburgh Current, where this story first appeared.