TAMPA —There are three apartments in Tampa where living rooms are stacked to the ceiling with rice and beans, pasta and potatoes.
Enough, local activists hope, to feed the thousands of protesters expected in Tampa next week for the Republican National Convention.
The stockpiles are made up of donations and surplus food discarded from local restaurants and food pantries. It was collected by volunteers from Food Not Bombs, a grass roots group that feeds protesters at various events across the country.
Exactly how much food do they need?
They don't know.
How many people are they expecting to feed?
They don't know that, either.
How can they be sure they'll have enough?
"It's like magic somehow," said Keith McHenry, who helped start the organization in 1980.
The strategy is simple: Make lots and lots of food, and when you run out, make more.
McHenry has plenty of experience. Over more than 30 years, he and his volunteers have traveled everywhere from San Diego to New York City to feed protesters.
They typically offer oatmeal for breakfast and some kind of pasta or rice and beans, maybe with a veggie stir-fry, for dinner. There's no meat and typically no dairy, as the group can't count on refrigeration. "We don't want to be killing people," McHenry said.
They cook the food in various kitchens. In this case, three protesters who live near downtown Tampa have offered up their homes. Or, McHenry can cook out of his own home: his big brown van, where he's installed a small stove-top next to the mattress where he sleeps.
It's not just about the food, he said. The group also hopes to spread its own message: It's more important for the government to invest in basic human needs like food, shelter and health care than to pour money into the military.
If someone takes that idea away, with their belly full, "that's what I'm most proud of," McHenry said.
Kim Wilmath can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3337.