For Comfort & Joy, the decision to start a Paiute food drive was not just about spreading the love beyond the Burn but celebrating the tribe’s own spirit of inclusion.
“Comfort & Joy is primarily a gay, queer, LGBT camp, but we’re open to everybody. Our whole thing is about acceptance and inclusion, says Fabien Gestas, one of the camp leaders.
“Our founder, Kitten Calfee, initiated a connection with Paiute people because he learned that in their spiritual tradition they have people called Two Spirits. Two Spirits within the tribal community are usually gay people, and they’re revered, not ostracized. Unlike most Western societies, they have revered people who are different for hundreds and hundreds of years,” he says.
But the camp didn’t just feel the love; they saw a very real need in the Paiute community.
“You have unemployment within the tribe that is seven to eight times the average and, in addition to that, it’s basically a food desert — especially for children,” says Fabien.
So for the past eight years, Comfort & Joy has helped the local Paiute people by rounding up leftover Theme Camp food for Pyramid Lake’s Paiute Tribal Food Bank.
This year, Comfort & Joy is calling on more Theme Camps — particularly those with big-arse kitchens — to donate their leftover perishables and non-perishables by dropping them at Bunny’s taco stand at Nixon after the Burn.
And Fabien is particularly keen to see the Paiute tribe receive fresh, good-quality food.
“I want to bring them good, wholesome food. I don’t want to dump on them a billion pop tarts or macaroni cheese or pizzas,” he says.
“I’ve spent thousands and thousands of dollars for our camp to buy fresh fruit, vegetables and meat. And I try to build the question into what I buy: ‘What can I have leftover that they’re not going to have access to otherwise?’”
Taco Booth Beginnings
If you are passing through Wadsworth, you can also drop your leftover non-perishables at the taco stand. And while you are there, say hello to Elaine Duncan, who started the whole food drive ball rolling in 2009.
According to Elaine, the idea sprang from talking to Burners who passed by her taco stand every year.
“A lot of people have come by my taco booth over the years, and they’ve said, “We can’t take this back; we’re flying out. Can you find some way to get rid of it?”
So when Comfort & Joy founder, Kitten, asked what his camp could do to help, she had the answer.
“Kitten stopped by this one year and he asked: ‘We’ve been coming through your reservation for years, what can we do to give back? What would you like to see?’ And I said, ‘Well, I would like to see a food drive’, and that’s how it came about,” says Elaine.
A victim of domestic violence, Elaine decided to send the donations to Pyramid Lake Victim Services in Wadsworth, where it would be distributed to other women struggling with domestic violence.
“When we had the food drive, it gave people a reason to leave the food for some people who could use the food. I take non-perishables, but if I get perishables, I take it over to the senior centre,” says Elaine.
Banking on More
The Pyramid Lake Paiute Food Bank is the food drive’s main focus. It helps all three tribal communities at Wadsworth, Nixon and Sutcliffe, as well as other people living in the area.
“We make use of any donation and we are aware of community members and their needs, so we would make sure that we would get it to the person that would need it,” say Charlene Dressler, Director of Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Social Services, who says lack of transport and access to work hit some areas harder than others.
According to Charlene, there is a particular need for food at the moment.
“We used to have a general assistance fund, which was money to supplement someone so they were able to survive every month. But we don’t have that for a couple of months now. Right now, it’s critical to have donations for food because we have people without that funding source to even purchase food,” she says.
Strengthening Ties and Next Steps
Fabien is keen to expand the camp’s relationship with Tribal Government, which was strengthened three years ago when he started the annual fundraiser.
“All those funds go directly to Paiute Social Services, which runs the food bank. That effort expanded our relationship with the tribe at large, and we now have this relationship with the Tribal Government,” he says.
Comfort & Joy and Paiute Social Services are already talking about plans for next year, which will involve identifying and setting up a spot where a larger number of Burners can easily pull off the highway to drop off donations.
“The relationship between us and the tribe has become very important to our organisation. It’s one way we really work on giving back because we are a nonprofit and not just a Burning Man camp. Our mission specifically speaks to giving back to the wider community and this is one of the ways we can do that,” says Fabien.
Got Leftover Food to Donate?
What they accept: All perishables and non-perishables as long as they are unused or unopened. No alcohol.
Where to drop food donations: Bunny’s taco booth in Nixon, on the corner of Corral Rd and SR447. Elaine is also collecting donations at her taco booth at the I-80 Smoke Shop. Look for the orange and yellow Comfort & Joy flags at both the booths.
For more information on Comfort & Joy’s Burners Give Back program, visit their Facebook page.
Top photo: Bunny, Chickpea and Michael Cooper