Who We Are
We restore dignity to the cancelled members of society: the marginalized, the cast out, the prison residents and the houseless. Our programs provide the reflection, nourishment and tools necessary to restore human dignity. Once reclaimed, we believe people naturally find the desire to contribute their unique gifts to society.
Unconditional Freedom is a 501c3 organization originally incorporated in 2002 as Fill Up America. Over time, Unconditional Freedom has changed its name and mission to reflect the expanded focus from an organization using surplus food and clothing to provide educational and charitable assistance, to one dedicated to providing the reflection, nourishment and tools necessary to restore human dignity. From the beginning, Unconditional Freedom has centered on restoring dignity to the most outcast members of society, with the belief that when this happens, all of society benefits.
We started with weekly food giveaways in the Tenderloin in San Francisco, and yearly Thanksgiving and Christmas meals with warm food, a place to sit and have connection, beautiful flowers and toys for children.
In October 2019, we shifted our efforts towards opening a full-time free restaurant in the Tenderloin and held monthly pop-up meals, feeding nutritious, farm-to-table food using produce from our gardens, as well as partner farms, to 200 people in need a day.
Since 2019, we have served more than 50,000 farm-to-table meals to those in need and expanded from San Francisco to Mendocino County, Los Angeles, and Harlem, NY, where we serve over 500 meals a week. Every element of the meal is designed to awaken a felt sense of love in our guests. From the handwritten bags that read, “You are loved,” to the edible flowers on the desserts, the meals evoke a beauty and care that is felt by everyone involved.
We use primarily donated ingredients from partner farms, butchers, and other businesses and use what would be excess in a creative way to feed those who need it most. The food is cooked with love, and we train formerly incarcerated individuals to cook the meal with us, creating skills training and more ways for love to flow in the community.
In August 2023, Free Food began operating Reffetorio Harlem, to provide weekly freshly cooked meals in a community setting within the newly renovated kitchen Located inside The Historic Emanuel AME Church. Refettorio Harlem is part of the 13 Refettorios network of Massimo Bottura’s Food for Soul. In 2023, Free Food contributed to the 66,000 pounds of food rescued and recirculated to the community in the form of groceries through Refettorio Harlem’s food pantry program. Free Food is currently serving up to 500 meals a week.
Transforming Prisons into Monasteries
September 2020, alarmed by the conditions inside prisons during the Pandemic, and the lack of masks making their way to residents inside, we quickly mobilized to sew masks and find manufacturers that could send them to prisons all over the country. Unconditional Freedom Project, was born soon after with the vision of turning prisons into monasteries. This project led to the Art of Soulmaking correspondence course that is in 300 facilities in 25 states, showing a significant reduction in anger, stress, depression, and reliance on addictive substances in participants. We launched the course with our book, The Art of Soulmaking, at a state facility in California.
The Art of Soulmaking workbook teaches prison residents contemplative practices, along with meditation and yoga. Every student is paired with a volunteer to correspond with by mail as they journey through the course. The program has quickly grown to reach over 300 facilities across 25 states, and include almost 400 certified volunteers.
The staff and volunteer letter writers at The Unconditional Freedom Project put our pens and hearts to paper, and have been writing to our prison resident practitioners as they journey through soulmaking. Naturally, we get shaped in the process, learning to meet each individual, human-to-human and heart-to-heart. As the number of incarcerated residents in our program continues to expand, our network of trained volunteers who correspond with participants grows too. Our volunteers are made up of people from local community centers, senior homes, donors and friends from around the country.
Guards To Guardians
Programming continued to expand in 2022, including the launch of Guards to Guardians, a program designed in collaboration with veteran correction officers around the country for the purpose of fostering health and flourishing for Corrections Officers.
The premise of this program is that officers’ suffering can be transformed by allowing more space for their own humanity, emotions, and fundamental need for connection with others and purpose.
We developed a workbook, a roadmap for transforming the profession from “Guards” offering security and confinement, to “Guardianship” where beyond security and confinement officers become agents for inmate transformation and growth. This program has sparked interest at both the officer and administrative levels at facilities in California, North Carolina, New York, New Jersey, and Arizona.
A New Model for Incarceration
In late 2022, Kate Feigin, MSW, a 17 year criminal justice professional, left her post at Mendocino County Jail to become the Director of Unconditional Freedom’s Prison Monastery Program. Kate strongly believes in the need for a new model for incarceration in the United States, and that the Prison Monastery is the most effective system in achieving this goal.
In February 2023, The Prison Monastery launched at Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF). The program purposely targeted a security-challenged, low-programming housing unit 509 and was designed to transform the culture of the unit into that of a monastery: a space for contemplation, reflection, and finally, contribution.
The Prison Monastery believes that the greatest opportunity for benefit lies in starting with what’s considered most difficult. The program was received with incredible support from the administration, the population, and the custody officers assigned to this unit.
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” –Buckminster Fuller
Doing things differently often has people question who you are and what you do, and often the attacks get louder when love and sincerity are at the core of what you do. Day in and day out, our small and mighty team, including our 500 or so volunteers, are on the ground feeding people on the streets, working with the incarcerated, and creating environments where everyone can experience the basic human right of dignity. We operate on small budgets, with staff earning modest wages, and do what we do out of the belief that contribution is at the core of creating strong communities. There have been a few instances where individuals have pursued cancellation paths to further their own ideological agendas and/or career ambitions, jeopardizing access of the vital services we provide to those in need. We’re putting together a short summary of these cancellation attempts. For now you can read more about our connection with the female led education company OneTaste that is at the heart of these attacks. Of course, if you have any questions about this, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.