A Banner Year

by Bob Wilms

This has been a banner year for Unconditional Freedom, and I wanted to take a moment to digest the amazing accomplishments that we’ve all achieved together, from our volunteers to our staff, our advisors, fans, and most important of all, to the participants in our programs.

Consider the following:

Free Food went from operating in basements with makeshift kitchens into a newly remodeled facility, Refettorio Harlem, built by Massimo Bottura’s nonprofit Food for Soul back in September.

Since September 1st, in the last four months, Free Food Harlem has served more than 10,000 meals to those in need, and rescued and circulated close to 24,000 pounds of food waste to the community.

For the calendar year, we served more than 25,000 meals. Michael Lesser, Caryn Roth, Rachael Hemsi, Caroline Griggs, Matt Sherman, Jason Thompson, and the rest of the team have done an incredible job.

The Kenyan born chef Feswali Mulanda recently joined the Free Food Harlem team and will be cooking for us at Refettorio.

We’ve grown close to 200 volunteers for the project in Harlem. We have around 50 volunteers contribute to our three-course meal service, food pantry, and prep days each week.

Refettorio and Free Food Harlem in collaboration with Ladies of Hope Ministries’ Dr. Topeka Sam, The Lohm, and Green Food Solutions are hoping to install one of Growing Peace’s Hydroponic vegetable gardens in the current “dry storage” room in the basement of the church.

Growing Peace, has offered to fund the seven hydroponic towers, and tend to the plants on a weekly basis, harvesting as needed, and training Refettorio staff, volunteers, and community members on how to grow food.

The fresh vegetable harvest will be used in Refettorio’s weekly meals.

The Prison Monastery team, led by Kate Feigin, and including Margot Koch, Ira Silverberg, Nancy Coleman, Hesham Hauter, Courtney Walker, Marla Moffet, Marcus Ratnathicam, Kate Wiggs, and myself, with an assist from Dr. Topeka Sam and Reid Weingarten, launched our in-person programming at Central California Women’s Facility, the largest women’s prison in the country, in the facility’s most challenged housing unit, and brought four months of programming that would change our lives forever, as well as those of the women inside the facility.

We received a generous $280,000 gift from Kate Wiggs, one of our core volunteers and team members.

Art of Soulmaking is now in forty states across the United States and in 371 facilities, with another forty soon to be added.

Close to 100,000 active users are on Edovo, the prison tablet platform provider for The Art of Soulmaking, every month. Art of Soulmaking has 32,000 unique starts, our collection of meditation, drama, yoga videos, and gets tens of thousands of views.

Edovo asked Unconditional Freedom to contribute a video lesson and workbook on the Art of Addiction to the first teaching module they self-produced on their platform. It will be launching later this month.

This summer we completed the first qualitative study on one of our beloved programs: The Art of Addiction. Kate Fegin, Courtney Walker and 24 formerly incarcerated co-researchers went through the curriculum and adapted it for prisons.

The Prison Monastery team was also asked to co-host a booth with Edovo at the American Corrections Association Conference in Washington, D.C. later this week.

We expect 2024 to be another incredible year of growth and look forward to doing it together

To watch a one-minute video about our work at Free Food Harlem click here. To donate please click here.

Bob Wilms is the Executive Director of Unconditional Freedom, and is currently based out of Harlem, NYC. For fun, Bob writes music and convenes with nature.

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