The Oakland unhoused community has expanded exponentially in the last two years, as tech money swept the Bay Area, raised rents, and spurred widespread evictions. Tent encampments, at first small and sparsely placed, have expanded to tents of 20 to 40, and are now found in most parks, abandoned lots, and beneath nearly every overpass. In response to the growing housing and food crisis, local activist groups such as Punks With Lunch and more recently, Rogers and Rosewater, provide ready-made meals weekly to the unhoused community.
Bopha Ul is the founder of Rogers and Rosewater, providing healthy, hot, homemade meals to people in tent communities and others that experience hunger. Rogers and Rosewater is sometimes a team of people and on some nights is Bopha just by herself, cooking and then hand delivering meals every Wednesday from a wheeled cart. Here, we speak with Bopha to find out more about her activism.
What is Rogers and Rosewater, and how did it start?
Rogers and Rosewater is a DIY nonprofit. It really started out on a whim. I’ve always wanted to help people, but didn’t know how and never had any extra funds to do so and still don’t.
I started volunteering with West Oakland Punks With Lunch and realized that you can help people with little to no money as long as your give them non-judgmental support – it is welcomed and appreciated!
I saw that there was a lull in food being distributed in the midweek and thought to myself, “Someone, somewhere should do an outreach midweek.” Then it dawned on me, I am that someone.
Where did you get the name?
“Rogers” is named after Mr. Rogers who’s entire message is to be kind and to love people as they are. “Rosewater” is named after Elliot Rosewater from God Bless You Mr. Rosewater, a book by Kurt Vonnegut. His character uses kindness as a tool to heal himself through trauma.
What is do you value most about Rogers and Rosewater?
The most important thing to me is bringing food, warmth and kindness to people on a weekly basis, and letting people know they are seen and they are loved.
How did you get the resources to do what you do?
Donations, benefit shows and out of pocket! I’m not going to lie – there were a few times. I’ve taken out payday loans to run R&R. I buy food, drinks, pet food and also tents and sleeping bags for folks with the money.
As an independent activist, how do you find the energy to do what you do with such regularity?
It’s probably similar to people who are in bands. Doing something you love is worth any energy spent.
How has the emergence of COVID-19 affected your service?
We have less face-to-face interaction, which is hard for me because like to talk to people and hear about their day, what they want food-wise and if they have any requests. Now we are wearing masks and gloves which create an impersonal barrier, but it’s something we have to do to keep people healthy and safe. Also, we pack food before we go out instead of asking folks what they want and packing the dinner bags out in the streets.
We are also giving food to more housed folks who have lost their jobs and reached out to us. I told someone who was a bit snippy at me on Facebook for helping housed folks in need that I don’t discriminate against hunger. Housed people can be hungry too and I always let people know that if they are hungry, I can help them.
Anything else you want to add?
Also, don’t feel bad if you can’t help right now. Feel good when you can. Be kind to yourself and be kind to your neighbors.