Gwendolyn Westbrook and Mother Brown’s: Combatting food insecurity in Bayview Hunters Point

Malik and Nube spent most of a day at Mother Brown’s, interviewing, getting acquainted and helping to pack and deliver food bags that bring life and hope to many of the neediest people in San Francisco. – Photo: Malik Washington

by Bay View Assistant Editor Malik Washington

How many times have we heard about the United States of America being the “richest country on earth?” If that’s the case, why are so many of our citizens starving and suffering from malnutrition? Why do we see a stark increase in so-called “food deserts” within urban and rural communities across the United States? 

Recently, I was tasked by our Editor Mary Ratcliff with finding an organization with the proven capability of feeding children in Bayview Hunters Point. The first place Mary directed me to was Mother Brown’s, and the person that Mary suggested I speak with was none other than Ms. Gwendolyn Westbrook 

Gwendolyn Westbrook speaking

On Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020, I was invited to Mother Brown’s, located at 2111 Jennings St. here in the Bayview Hunters Point. During our visit, I met many of the amazing people leading this cause of community nourishment and jumped at the chance to interview Gwendolyn Westbrook. I, along with my fiancé, Nube Brown, our managing editor, accompanied the Mother Brown’s caravan, delivering nutritious food to our neighbors here in the Bayview.

A couple months ago I informed our San Francisco Bay View readers that I would start a series of interviews with the “movers and shakers” in our community – along with influencers, change makers, freedom fighters, sports stars, entertainers and celebrities. Here, I recount the face-to-face interview I conducted with our sister Gwendolyn Westbrook, and I will also tell you about the wonderful employees and volunteers with this phenomenal organization committed wholeheartedly to serving the people of Bayview Hunters Point. 

Without further delay, I introduce to you Ms. Gwendolyn Westbrook of Mother Brown’s, a subsidiary of the United Council of Human Services.

Malik: Gwendolyn, can you tell us a little about the origins of Mother Brown’s and how you came into doing this much needed work?

Gwendolyn: Mother Brown grew up in Bayview Hunters Point and started a mobile feeding program where she would cook the food at her home, pack it up and take it to the Tenderloin, serving it off the top of her yellow Cadillac. 

Mother Brown’s big, gleaming clean kitchen has been feeding more than 8,000 people a month for the past 20 years from a building acquired through the help of former Mayor Willie Brown. – Photo: Malik Washington

One day, San Francisco’s former mayor Willie Brown was driving by and saw Mother Brown feeding the people. He asked her to come to a community meeting to meet with him. Mayor Brown loved the work that Mother Brown was doing and helped open up this building where we are still doing today the work that Mother Brown started.

Malik: How many people do you feed per month and what demographic group would you say suffers the greatest amount of food insecurity?

Gwendolyn: We feed over 8,000 people a month and we have been doing that for the past 20 years. In regard to demographics, we feed African Americans, Asians, Latinx and anybody who comes through our doors hungry. We don’t turn anyone away. 

Children come in here and we have fed people in times that we had money and when we didn’t have money. We did it when the city cut our funding – we just kept doing the work. God has been so good to us that we never had to stop feeding one person. And one more thing: The food is excellent!

Malik: For the philanthropists in the San Francisco area – what would you say in order to encourage them to aid Mother Brown’s with some material support?

Gwendolyn: Number one: I would like to say that all my staff has been working for minimum wage since this place has been here. My staff is extremely dedicated and since this COVID-19 has hit, they’ve been coming out consistently to work. 

Come and help us do grocery bags – we do crabs, shrimp, steak, canned goods, beans and rice.

In San Francisco, minimum wage is not a living wage that people can take care of themselves on. My people are extremely dedicated to the cause so the first thing that I would like to do if I ever get any money is to give these hard workers a raise. My workers are here every single day. 

Every dollar that comes into Mother Brown’s is used to help the community. The City of San Francisco gives us a budget, but we need to increase who we serve. Bayview Hunters Point is a large community and the community needs out here are greater. 

Representing a powerful new generation of Bayview Hunters Point leaders who serve the people are Gwen Westbrook and Arieann Harrison, who works in the front office. Gwen, who was chosen by the original Mother Barbara Jean Brown to carry on her work, cared for Mother Brown before she died, learning all she knew. Gwen’s own mother, Idaree Westbrook, was an educator who fought for Black children; she calls her aunt, the legendary warrior mother Eloise Westbrook, her “second mom.” Arieann is the daughter of another legendary warrior mother, environmental justice advocate Marie Harrison. – Photo: Malik Washington

African Americans are nervous and suffer the most from food insecurity. People are nervous about not getting enough food. This is understandable considering our background, like the slave trade and the whole thing. They have been scuffling and struggling to survive out here for years and years. My parents did, and I continue to struggle. 

What I would like philanthropists and people who care about food insecurity to do is to give us an opportunity. Invest in the Bayview community because it is the best community in San Francisco. Help us help each other. We are not asking for handouts, but we need help in order to help each other.

Aireann Harrison speaking

Every dime that we get goes back out into the community. We have a clothing program where we collect clothes. All those things are given to the people for free. We don’t charge for any of our services at all.

Malik: Gwendolyn, what do you envision for the future of Mother Brown’s and what can the community do to help?

Gwendolyn: The community can always help by volunteering if they can. Come and help us do grocery bags – we do crabs, shrimp, steak, canned goods, beans and rice. We are doing everything we possibly can to lift our community up. 

There is something that the community can do, and that is to strive to help yourself. I can’t say too much because the Bayview community has stepped up to the plate over and over again. If it wasn’t for Jesus Christ and this Bayview community, we would have been closed. 

Mother Brown Director Gwen Westbrook and Bay View Managing Editor Nube Brown fill bags with delicious, nutritious food. Later, Malik and Nube accompanied the Mother Brown’s crew and San Francisco’s First Family of Song, the Cnotes, as they delivered food for the body and for the soul to hungry people in Bayview Hunters Point. – Photo: Malik Washington

When it came time to protest, the Bayview community was with us, period. Everybody in here knows us. All of our workers come from this community. We love the Bayview Hunters Point community and they love us.

Malik: Sisters and brothers, I want to thank Gwendolyn Westbrook for allowing us at the San Francisco Bay View the opportunity to interview her. I’d also like to thank Arieann Harrison, one of Mother Brown’s hardest workers, for allowing us to speak with her as well. 

Curtis Family Notes & Mother Brown’s

I encourage everyone to visit the San Francisco Bay View website and watch these interviews. We were honored to be able to ride with the drivers who actually deliver the food to the people in Bayview Hunters Point, and we were amazed watching Maestro Curtis and the Curtis Family Cnotes lift up their voices in song, coaxing hungry people out of their homes in order to receive this free food that Mother Brown’s delivers every day. 

This is just the first of many articles which will highlight the hometown sheroes and heroes in our wonderful community. I want to thank all the workers and volunteers at Mother Brown’s for welcoming our managing editor, Nube Brown, and myself. Gwendolyn Westbrook is one of the most inspiring Black women I have ever met.

Malik Washington and Nube Brown are, respectively, assistant and managing editor at the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper. They are abolitionists and community activists committed to serving the people who live and work in the entire Bay Area. Malik and Nube have a special interest in the Bayview Hunters Point Community and in promoting the prisoner human rights movement in California and beyond. If you see news happening or would like to contact them, please email malik@sfbayview.com and nube@sfbayview.com. Please visit our website, sfbayview.com, and share the knowledge, wisdom and understanding and Black culture contained in our one of a kind national Black newspaper.