Free Breakfast for Children
The Free Breakfast for School Children Program was a community service program run by the Black Panther Party. The Panthers would cook and serve food to the poor inner city youth of the area. Initiated in January 1969 at St. Augustine's Church in Oakland, California, the program became so popular that by the end of the year, the Panthers set up kitchens in cities across the nation, feeding over 10,000 children every day before they went to school.
In the mid-1960s, Black Panther Party chapters developed a series of social programs to provide needed services to black and poor people. Their intent was to promote "a model for an alternative, more humane social scheme." These "serve the people programs," of which there came to be more than 60, were renamed Survival Programs in 1971 and were operated by Party members under the slogan "survival pending revolution."
One such program was the Free Breakfast for Children Program, which began in January 1969 at a church in west Oakland, and spread to many cities in America where there were Party chapters. The Free Breakfast Program became the central organizing activity of the group, and became its most lasting contribution to American society. Thousands of poor and hungry children were fed free breakfasts every day by the Party under this program. The Panthers believed that "Children cannot reach their full academic potential if they have empty stomachs." The reach and success of the program in so many communities underscored the inadequacies of the federal government's then-flagging and underresourced lunch programs in public schools across the country. When federal authorities began focusing greater attention on black nationalist groups in 1969, they assailed the free breakfast program as nothing more than a propaganda tool used by the Party to carry out an insurrection. Among other actions intended to undermine the program, authorities raided breakfast program locations while children were eating. Furthermore, the FBI denounced the Party itself as "the most 'active and dangerous' black nationalist threat to internal security", bent on overthrowing the U.S. government.
In Chicago, the leader of the Panthers local, Fred Hampton, led five different breakfast programs on the West Side, helped create a free medical center, and initiated a door to door program of health services which test for sickle cell anemia, and encourage blood drives for the Cook County Hospital. The Chicago party also reached out to local gangs to clean up their acts, get them away from crime and bring them into the class war. The Party's efforts met wide success, and Hampton's audiences and organized contingent grew by the day.
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