COMMUNITY: Bay Area art collective 'Tha Hood Squad' brings positive change to the community

2020 - Wells Fargo- Justice

The Quakes and Wells Fargo are humbled and inspired by the amazing work of our frontline communities and neighbors in this time of crisis. Each week, we’ll be featuring and highlighting the work of one fantastic neighborhood hero, showcasing the great work they are doing and the organizations our community can rally around.

Additionally, a donation will be made to an organization or community project on behalf of each week’s hero. This week we will be donating to Tha Hood Squad.

These days, it’s not unusual for JT “Justice” Faraji to be in his kitchen making omelettes at 4:30 a.m. After packing up hundreds of omelettes and loading them into his truck, he hits the streets for meal distribution early in the morning.

“Free breakfast, free food, free water!” he shouts. 

His truck is packed to the brim with ready-to-eat hot breakfasts, and in the bed of his truck are boxes of fruit, water, milk, t-shirts, masks, and a few helpers. 

Gentrification in Silicon Valley has created an influx of people unable to afford housing, and as a result, more people are going hungry. Feeding the community is Justice’s way of giving back and making a difference. 

“I lose sleep over it. So I get out of bed and start making sandwiches or start cooking burgers.” 

Tha Hood Squad 

Justice is a founder of Tha Hood Squad, a Black and brown art collective based in the Bay Area. Tha Hood Squad’s origins trace back to 2012, as a grassroots group of creatives that were involved in art and the culture of their communities. They became an established art collective in 2014, and  are currently incorporating to become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. 

“As a collective, we do art, but I feel like we’re more known for the work we do outside of art,” says Justice. This includes, “Organizing protests and supporting other protests… We feed the unhoused and undocumented, those that are in need, working families, the working poor, and mentally ill. Basically anyone that needs food,” he says. 

Justice feels led to use whatever time and resources he has to help those in need. Even if it means pulling money from his own pocket to get the job done. “Every opportunity I have, that van is out running food to someone somewhere,” he says. 

The idea began with a breakfast program, where Justice and his group could pass out free breakfasts to vulnerable populations in cities like East Palo Alto, Oakland, San Jose and Redwood City.

Not long after they began their breakfast program, the pandemic hit. The sudden spike in demand for food not only revealed the community’s urgent needs, but demanded a sustainable model that could keep up with the demand. 

From May until now, they have served over 5,700 meals to the community. And recently, they were able to serve 947 meals in a single day. 

Hood Squad Farms 

Tha Hood Squad began exploring ways their breakfast program could become an entirely self-sufficient operation. This led to them learning about food sustainability to self-source all their ingredients. They soon after decided to start Hood Squad Farms.

After purchasing chickens, they made a chicken coop to source all their eggs for the omelette breakfasts. They began growing all their own vegetables in a backyard garden to be used in the omelettes, such as kale, onions and tomatoes. They have also been working with a fertilizer expert, who has taught them a lot about farming and food sustainability. 

On an average week, Tha Hood Squad helps upwards of around 1,000 people. The people they serve are not limited to those without homes or the unemployed, but include anyone who is in need. 

Reaching the Community

A few months back, Justice had been driving in a car when he passed a field of agricultural workers and felt unsettled witnessing their working conditions. “It struck a chord with me,” he says. 

Justice felt a call to action. The pandemic and California wildfires have created an even more profound and urgent need to support, defend and uplift these community members. “We need to do something for these people,” he says. “If nothing else, bring them meals at least.” 

Tha Hood Squad began making trips to popular agriculture towns like Watsonville, Salinas and Monterey, and distributed free food during the workers’ lunch breaks. 

“We want to do more,” says Justice. “They’re depending on us. Until then, we keep at it.”

Moving Forward

The Hood Squad began serving meals from the cab of the truck, with meals packed tightly under the seats, on the seats, and in all corners wherever more could fit. They reached a point where they had to consider choosing between taking more meals and less helpers, or less meals and more helpers. 

After fundraising to purchase a van, they ended up outgrowing the van in three weeks. They are currently fundraising for a second van for food distribution.

“We use our van for people. It was given to us by the people, and we're gonna use it for the people,” says Justice. 

Tha Hood Squad has their sights set on consistent growth so they can help as many people as possible. “We have a huge competition which drives us, it’s a competition with ourselves,” says Justice. “Each week we try to go up 100 meals.”

Community Allies

Tha Hood Squad and those who donate funds and resources to this cause are a testament to the strong network of individuals who care about  their community. 

Justice and Tha Hood Squad are advocating for the community in a multi-dimensional way. When they are not meeting the tangible needs of the community, they are supporting and defending their invisible needs. They show up to support protests that stand up for the injustices their community faces. 

“We’re showing up and we’re doing whatever we can,” says Justice. When the van isn’t being used to give food to the community, it’s being used to help in the fight for justice.”

Justice says the growth of their social media following has helped them reach a wider audience of people who want to support their cause. It has also been a way for Tha Hood Squad to show everyone that they are actively in the streets, neighborhoods and fields, feeding and advocating for their neighbors. 

A few months ago, Tha Hood Squad had a little over 100 Instagram followers. Now, they have over 4,400. 

One of the missions of Tha Hood Squad is to help people see outside their world, and try to understand issues that don’t directly affect them. “People get complacent and comfortable, and accept things for the way they are,” says Justice. “Because we’re a Black and brown art collective, these are the issues we are drawn to— stuff that impacts our community,” he says.

These artists use their creativity as a vessel to bring dialogue to these issues. When they are not feeding the hungry or standing up for injustice, they use art, photography, comedy and other creative expressions to bring light to issues like racial injustice and exploitation of agricultural workers. 

“Peace, love, harmony, balance, unity and justice. Those principles guide everything we do,” Justice says. 

To learn more about Tha Hood Squad or donate to their cause, visit their website.

To see the work they are doing in the community, follow them on Instagram @ThaHoodSquad.