The pandemic has forced many people into a corner. With their money stretched thin, people are struggling to decide whether their paychecks should go to rent, groceries, prescriptions or gas.
Jeff Fard — more commonly known as Brother Jeff — is hyper-aware of this reality, and his nonprofit in Five Points has answered the cries for help in more ways than one.
Brother Jeff’s Cultural Center and Cafe began its ‘No One Should Be Hungry, Period’ campaign on Christmas day. The campaign launched in partnership with Sony/ATV Music Publishing, which works with the likes of Beyonce, Drake, Lady Gaga and many others. Their goal for the holiday event was to hand out 500 free meals. They ended up giving away 763 freshly cooked dinners made by hired chefs who had been displaced from employment in the restaurant industry during COVID-19.
Fard’s goal for the campaign is to help anyone and everyone in need, and, in doing so, force the community to reckon with the complex and diverse image of what need really looks like today.
“You can see it in the long lines of folks that are going to pantries or driving up to get food boxes. Those people look like everyone,” Fard said. “So we don’t say if it’s someone who needs food, we say if it’s someone who wants food, needs food or otherwise. We don’t ask questions, we don’t put any caveat attached to it.”
And, thankfully, the campaign is far from over. When asked about its timeline Fard’s answer is simple: “It will continue on into the future. ‘Til we eradicate hunger, how ‘bout that?”
The second event will take place on Martin Luther King Jr. Day with ‘1000 Free MLK Holiday Dinners.’ Over 150 people have signed up to volunteer for the COVID-guideline friendly event, and Fard is planning to top their goal of giving away 1000 meals.
Fard credits the overwhelming support for this campaign to its inclusive mission.
“This is an effort for us to come together as a community and work toward unity and healing as opposed to things that divide us,” Fard said. “I can’t find one person who will disagree with the premise that ‘No One Should Be Hungry, Period.’ I didn’t say folks that are housed or unhoused, or white or black, or brown or red, or straight or gay, or democrat or republican.
“When we say period, that’s exclamation point, period, full-stop.”
Tony Exum Jr., a volunteer for the Christmas Day kick-off, can attest to the success of the first event on Christmas.
“There were a lot of people that didn’t have anything else, but they had a good meal that day,” Exum Jr. said. “And that can be just invigorating.”
But this campaign is not the first time Brother Jeff’s Cultural Center and Cafe has addressed problems within the community. Prior to this most recent campaign, the nonprofit had a food pantry and gave out several hundred free meals a week, and these offerings have continued to date. Even its inception in 1994 was a direct response to a desperate need for a community-building space.
“There were lots of gangs, drugs and violence permeating our community,” Fard, a Northeast Denver native, said. “So what we did was we created a safe place for the community to come gather, express their creativity or aspirations in a positive environment without any censorship or overseeing their thoughts.”
A part of that community-building comes with the organization’s commitment to fostering important conversations. Fard does a podcast almost every day at 2 p.m. via the Brother Jeff Facebook page. He’s had conversations with presidential candidates, senators and community members alike and touched upon many different topics.
“Everyone has come to that platform and it’s become a trusted voice for information,” Fard said.
Exum Jr. is one of Brother Jeff’s loyal listeners. He says most of the conversations are “centered around black and brown communities,” but the wide variety of topics affect everyone.
“He makes sure that all sides are being viewed,” Exum Jr. said. “And that’s very important in this day and age.”
But Brother Jeff’s Cultural Center and Cafe goes beyond meaningful conversations and food distribution. They also have a wide array of programming events throughout the year that give members of the community a chance to share their talents through poetry, music and dance.
Exum Jr. is a contemporary jazz, R&B and funk saxophonist. He is a nationally-touring musician who, like many other artists, had gigs stripped away due to the pandemic. He performed at the cultural center over the summer for its virtual concert series alongside Denver-based artists. He holds Fard in the highest regard for everything he’s done for himself and the community at large.
“Jeff is a beacon, he’s a vessel,” Exum Jr. said. “He deserves a national spotlight for what he’s doing in Denver because there’s not a whole lot of people who render themselves to humanity like that.”
Fard’s take on his accomplishments is unsurprisingly humble.
“It’s not anything new, different or unique that I’m doing,” Fard said. “It’s just basically what I was raised to believe society looks like, and that is everyone participating to make where they’re at a better place and making sure those who are struggling are also included in community and in society. So that’s kind of Brother Jeff.”
If you’re interested in learning more about Brother Jeff and his nonprofit, please visit Brother Jeff’s Facebook page or his website: https://www.brotherjeff.com/.