The Shoppers of Berkeley’s People’s Park

by Steed Dropout
Mar. 31, 2014


Giveaways in People’s Park come and go like buses. Park regulars are regularly nourished by Food Not Bombs and the Catholic Worker, as well as food drops from nearby dormitories (left-over event trays), neighbors, and the public.

Cast-off clothing, shoes, knick-knacks, and souvenirs–abound, often strewn about at various spots, since park managers banned a park free-clothes box in 1996.

People’s Park regulars have become savvy shoppers.

Just Shopping. Photo by Ted Friedman.

The most savvy of them is Hate Man, the park’s #1 shopper.

People’s Park regulars have become savvy shoppers.

Hate Man Abides. Photo by Ted Friedman.

People’s Park’s most media-watched figure for a quarter century, Hate Man, 77, generally eschews Food Not Bombs but goes for the Catholic Worker’s irresistible sandwiches, when available.

Hate, as his followers call him, prefers eating from garbage cans, using his trusty finger-licking method that professional food tasters would admire. Often a garbage can will show up, mysteriously, next to Hates’ site in the park.

In this People’s Park buyer’s market, food and clothing donors must be good marketers.
Not all succeed.


People’s Park regulars have become savvy shoppers.

Sunday Giveaway. Photo by Ted Friedman.

A food and clothing giveaway in the park may have faltered, even failed, Sunday morning, but the spirit behind it soared.

A handful of women and a child or two from what they called a “social club” or “women’s auxiliary” from Fremont dropped in on park drop-outs, bearing bottled water, microwavable noodles, soups, and an array of colorful clothes.

With no park regulars in sight, an on-looker recommended the giveaway move to a nearby park. One of the donors tried on some of the giveaway clothes. The clothes were that good.

As the giveaway spluttered, another on-looker blamed lack of attendance on “wet-grass.” The park was deserted after days of downpour. Constant failure of the park’s drainage system is well-known by its regulars. Most regulars planned to (and did) attend a popular food giveaway later in the day, on dryer ground near the park stage.

An eight-year old child with the giveaway, tracked down the few park regulars who could be found, succeeding in distributing her tiny arms-full of noodles and /

People’s Park regulars have become savvy shoppers.

Freebies. Photo by Ted Friedman.

As the event waned, Berkeley Reporter, weighed-in with bone-head banter, seeking its first captive-audience guffaw of the day.

BR: “You call yourselves an auxiliary. Auxiliary to what?”

Giveaway: “we’re a social club.”

BR: “You could have been out picking up guys in a bar.”

This improbable scenario drew a round of hearty laughter. Soon the giveaway packed up its clothes and food into a van and left. It is not known whether the group will return with a different marketing plan.

Giving to People’s Park can be daunting.

These views do not reflect those of publications in which my work appears.

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