Black Panther Volunteer is Still Serving Breakfast to Hungry Kids 50 years later
Katherine Campbell talks about being introduced to the Black Panther Free Breakfast for Children Program back in 1969 because her sister would send her children to Sacred Heart Church to get breakfast. Campbell started volunteering at the program at Sacred Heart Church, continued working in the community after the Black Panthers dissolved and still appreciates that she is part of being able to make San Francisco beautiful. Campbell hosted a Black Panther Free Breakfast for Children Program 50th year anniversary event on November 14, 2019 at the Church of Eight Wheels in San Francisco, Calif.
Video: Lea Suzuki / The Chronicle
Katherine Campbell is still feeding hungry children, 50 years and counting.
Half a century ago, Campbell was one of the chefs who scrambled the eggs and buttered the toast every morning for the Black Panther Party’s free breakfast program in San Francisco.
“A hungry kid can’t really think, or be creative, in school,” she said. “The only thing a hungry kid can think about is how hungry he or she is.”
Campbell, 68, was a member of the Panthers back then, and she wore the signature black beret and went to the meetings. But she said she was in the community service end of things, not the militant end.
Hundreds of kids got free meals in the two years that the program operated in San Francisco. Fifty years later, that effort seemed to be worth remembering, she said. So Campbell decided she would put together a breakfast celebration to re-create the program.
And that’s what happened the other morning inside the glow-in-the-dark skating rink on Fillmore Street that used to be Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Campbell rounded up a handful of volunteers and invited a few dozen third-graders from nearby John Muir Elementary School, her alma mater, to sit down and relive history — since most of them had already eaten breakfast and didn’t need another one.
The grownups cracked the eggs and buttered the toast and stirred the grits and poured the orange juice, like the old days. The kids ate it up, because a kid will eat scrambled eggs and toast under most circumstances. There was singing and speeches and a trumpet player.
Josiah, one of the third-graders, said he liked the grits “because they tasted good and I’ve eaten a lot of grits before.” He also said he knew about the Black Panther Party, which dissolved in 1982, because his teacher told the class about it before the grits showed up.
School principal Sara Liebert said Campbell put on a great celebration. Most hungry kids get fed these days through the federally subsidized school breakfast program but, Liebert said, the “need for children to have a healthy and nutritious breakfast never ends — and there are still plenty of kids who don’t eat one at home.”
In the 50 years between Panther breakfasts, Campbell has never stopped helping people. She worked as a senior counselor in San Francisco and as school cook in Oakland. A few years ago, she was involved in a serious bicycle accident. Her money ran out and she found herself homeless for months. Then she latched onto a spot in a low-income apartment building half a block from Moscone Center.
For the 50th anniversary, Campbell figured she needed to once again don a beret. She couldn’t find her old, elegant one, so she picked up a cheapie at the beauty supply house. The label said it was made in China, and that made Campbell smile. Everything else is made in China, so why not a surrogate relic of what former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover once called the “greatest threat to the internal security of the country”? But for a former member on a fixed income, buying a high-end beret just out of sentiment was not in the cards.