There was a time, perhaps in eighth grade, that we all thought we would wind up on “Oprah” for our humanitarian efforts. Four of us, childhood friends, were sure we were going to save the world. Maybe we’d end poverty, feed the hungry, wipe out AIDS. The Queen of the Talk Show Circuit would certainly take notice.
We never really had a plan on how to pull this off. It turns out Justin Baker did—it was just a few years from taking flight.
While we waded through high school, Justin began jogging a path of non-profit work. He’d drag us to Bushnell Park in Hartford on Saturdays so we could help his Food Not Bombs chapter. We’d hand out donated food wrangled from local businesses to the homeless. Lines wrapped around the park’s storied carousel as we passed out snacks to those in need.
In the years since, my non-profit giving has waned, but Justin didn’t stop with Food Not Bombs. His jog has since turned into a marathon. When we came to the University of Colorado, we drifted. I started journalism studies; he continued with Food Not Bombs.
Justin concocted a unique idea for a non-profit of his own. When he formed Boulder-based Conscious Alliance in 2002, he began touring nationally with jam bands, setting up food collection spots at the entrance. The idea was to turn passion for music into passion for giving.
Over the years, Conscious has been in front of major concerts, national festivals, and CU football games.
Following Hurricane Katrina, Conscious worked Red Rocks for the Dave Matthews Band benefit concert—in four days, it collected 30,000 pounds of food (plus $100,000 in cash from other efforts) for those in need on the Gulf Coast.
That’s actually where we reconnected for the first time since graduation in 2002. While I was helping the cause at Red Rocks by swilling beer (proceeds went to victims), Justin was working the donation stands. We said a brief hello. I followed it with a Google search of Conscious Alliance. That’s when I began to realize how far he’d come. The food he and his cadre of do-gooders have collected helps thousands. They’ve piggybacked on people’s love for music by giving out rare concert posters in exchange for donations (215,000 pounds of food and $92,000 this year).
Most of the food stays local, and cash gets filtered to a food bank Conscious built on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. It’s been running since 2005, providing relief to hundreds in crises.
That’s just the first step. Justin, tired from years of touring like a rock star, literally, wants to evolve. You’ll still find Conscious at bigger shows and festivals, but Justin and his fulltime staff of three will begin focusing on raising money and grants so they can open more food banks on reservations.
His younger brother, Evan, who also attended CU and serves as Conscious’ administrative director, thinks enough of what Justin is doing that he’s even e-mailed Oprah with the hopes of gaining an invitation to the show. Maybe those middle-school dreams weren’t that far fetched after all.