Peace Bus: Grassroots Tacoma effort to feed kids this summer

People like Kwabi Amoah-Forson are why I love Tacoma. In a world of overwhelming problems, inescapable division and multiplying existential threats, there’s hope in the work he does, on the most local level — where you can see it and feel it. .

You probably know Amoah-Forson by what he drives: the Peace Bus. I first met him three years ago, as he was preparing to take his 1988 Mitsubishi minivan down the West Coast to the US-Mexico border. He’d recently purchased the 30-year-old vehicle for $3,200, painted it baby blue and adorned its newly given name. The whole crazy idea, Amoah-Forson said at the time, was to promote human connection, kindness, empathy and compassion.

In other words, peace.

Fast forward to today and Amoah-Forson’s Peace Bus is a well-known fixture in Tacoma. You see it out and about, at parks and local festivals. You see it during moments of community grieving and rallies for social justice, like the vigil at University of Washington Tacoma in the wake of George Floyd’s death. And every time you spot the bus, is Amoah-Forson, doing what he does best: talking, relating, listening — trying to model the good he can be accomplished in this world through simple acts of kindness and do-it-yourself perseverance. .

Admittedly, that can sound a little abstract and naive, but there’s also a power in Amoah-Forson’s commitment to the principles of peace. He just keeps at it.

Plus, it’s more than just words: since he’s started, Amoah-Forson has distributed thousands of pairs of socks to the unhoused, handed out thousands of books to kids and adults, and inspired an untold number of people in Tacoma and beyond to think beyond themselves.

All of this brings me to Amoah-Forson’s most recent campaign. Working with a handful of restaurants across the city, he’s calling it Every Kid Eats, and the goal is as straightforward as it sounds.

From July 1 through Sept. 1, Amoah-Forson told The News Tribune this week, kids 18 and younger will be able to get a free meal at one of the local restaurants, during a specific time of day. So far, Amoah-Forson said at least seven Tacoma restaurants have agreed to participate in the program, and he’s hoping a few more will follow by the time it launch next month.

Amoah-Forson said the big goal is to take a small bite out of youth hunger this summer, noting that food insecurity among children has grown during the pandemic, and that public school, where 61% of Tacoma kids qualify for free or reduced lunch, is often one of the only places where local kids are always served a hot meal.

Amoah-Forson also said he’s aiming to give Tacoma kids an experience that’s often rare, even if many of us take it for granted: the chance to sit down and eat a meal in a restaurant. Food banks and other meal programs — like the ones offered through Tacoma Public Schools and Metro Parks Tacoma — are incredibly important, he says, but there’s something different about dining out.

“I think that this can be a testament of what can come for our society, and our city, and maybe even the country as a whole. This idea that if we can work together, we can really take strides towards diminishing hunger, hunger being a major inhibitor of peace,” Amaoh-Forson said. “We love food as a society. People post pictures on their Instagram. There are TV shows about it. I don’t understand how something we love so much has not been extended to demonstrate that people have access to it.”

“I want to challenge people with this campaign, into thinking about how we’ve created a culture of eating without a culture of feeding,” he said.

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Kwabi Amoah-Forson, founder and president of The Peace Bus, plays guitar from inside the Peace Bus in Tacoma, Wash., on Tuesday, July 30, 2019. Joshua Bessex joshua.bessex@gateline.com

So how will it work? According to Amoah-Forson, a few of the restaurants — like Cooper’s Food and Drink on Tacoma’s West End and Buddy’s Chicken and Waffles downtown — have agreed to donate the meals for free. Others, he explained, will be reimbursed, in part from money he’ll be raising soon from the sale of a Peace Bus-inspired t-shirt made by the well-known local streetwear retailer eTc Tacoma.

Justin Troger, the general manager of Cooper’s Food and Drink, said he heard about Amoah-Forson’s effort online about a month ago and was immediately interested in helping, because “if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s taking care of children. ”

Troger also said that participating in the Every Kid Eats campaign allows his business to “be closer to the community,” which is a big part of what Amoah-Forson preaches..

“It’s good for the kids,” Troger said. “For families that may not be able to afford meals, or go out often, it gives them the chance to make sure every kid is fed, regardless of how much money they have.”

For eTc Tacoma co-owner and co-creative director Umi Wagoner, it’s a similar story.

Wagoner said he’s been following Peace Bus initiatives for several years, and partnering on the creation and sale of a limited-run t-shirt — which will be available online starting June 11 — seemed like a natural way for eTc Tacoma to lend support to Amoah -Forson’s cause while also helping the community the store owner grew up in..

According to Wagoner and Amoah-Forson, 50% of proceeds from the t-shirts will go towards the Every Kid Eats campaign.

“My wife is a first grade teacher and so I’ve heard plenty of stories about kids not having food, or nutrition of any sort, honestly. … So this felt very much like something we should get behind,” Wagoner said. “More broadly, what Kwabi does with his campaigns is just focused on showing that people are willing to help people, and I think that even by working with Kwabi, we’re supporting his overall goal, showing that, even in doing business, there are still ways to help people.”

On Wednesday, in a quintessentially Tacoma moment, Amoah-Forson acknowledged that he’s still not exactly sure how all the pieces of his Every Kid Eats campaign will come together. A full schedule and list of participating restaurants will be released in the coming weeks, he said; until then he’s taking it one step at a time, and keeping the faith.

Amoah-Forson is certain, however, that the campaign will be a success.

That’s what happens when you believe in yourself and in your cause, he said.

When a community comes together, anything’s possible.

“Government is great, but this is outside of government and we’re fixing these problems,” Amoah-Forson said.

“What if people can come together in order to fix a lot of problems that we’re having in our society?”

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Matt Driscoll is a columnist at The News Tribune and the paper’s Opinion editor. A McClatchy President’s Award winner, Driscoll is passionate about Tacoma and strives to tell stories that might otherwise go untold.

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