While parties were raging Friday night on Piedmont Avenue, one fraternity a little farther off the row gathered in the kitchen to make pancakes.
As Queen and Taylor Swift blared in the background, a group of fraternity brothers prepared batch after batch of pancakes, eventually depleting 15 pounds of Krusteaz buttermilk pancake mix.
This is a typical Friday night for Alpha Gamma Omega, a UC Berkeley “Christ-centered” fraternity on Haste Street between College and Piedmont avenues that hands out pancakes and water to students on Frat Row every Friday night.
The pancake and water handouts, dubbed “Water on the Row,” started two years ago in an effort to get the alcohol-free house more engaged with other campus fraternities and sororities, according to AGO president Rodney Owen.
“We were looking into ways that we could get more involved in the Greek community,” Owen said. “We didn’t want to have big parties, but we wanted to be with people and also serve them.”
These pancakes are the source of great relief and, at times, great confusion for the students who frequent frat parties on the weekends. AGO often distributes the free pancakes and water without explaining whom they are, handing the food to students rushing past their post on Channing Circle. The goal of the event, according to many fraternity brothers, is to engage with and serve students, not to publicize the fraternity or any particular religious belief.
Responses to the free pancakes run the gamut from overjoyed to questioning and even mildly afraid. Last Friday, 11 students, some frat brothers and some friends of the fraternity arrived at the row a little after midnight, spreading out on the sidewalk in front of the fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon with pancakes and water bottles in hand.
“Y’all are like the sober crew,” said one passer-by before grabbing a few pancakes.
“I feel like I’m being drugged,” said another. After a minute of conversation, he left the spot, pancakes in hand.
“Thank you, but I’m not trying to sober up right now,” said one girl as she rushed past.
Roland Theiss, a senior who is pledging the fraternity this semester, even offered a pancake to a police officer driving by. The officer declined.
“Obviously, as Christians, we believe that an essential part of Christianity is doing good work,” Theiss said. “And we’d like to think this is good work. We try to make it less about political posturing and more about doing a good thing.”
Some students stopped for longer conversations. UC Berkeley freshman James Yorke ate three pancakes and stopped to talk with the good Samaritans.
“They made me feel really welcome and at home,” Yorke said.
Beyond connecting with students returning from or traveling between parties, Owen said, the fraternity is working to relieve some of the stress on police in Berkeley, who respond to alcohol-related illness reports in the city. The water and food offer a safe and convenient way for students who have been drinking to take a brief respite from parties to hydrate. Earlier this year, UCPD responded to eight cases in one morning, six of which took place in residence halls.
AGO has 15 active members, according to Owen, and their service on Greek row is part of the fraternity’s legacy. He said UC Santa Barbara’s chapter often hands out burgers to students, with the same mission in mind.
Two years into hosting Water on the Row — and after trying out multiple locations on Channing Circle — the frat has carved out a place for itself that has led many students to expect their presence as part of a typical weekend out at UC Berkeley.
Members of the fraternity stay on the row until their entire supply of water and pancakes has been devoured. Last Friday, they left Piedmont about 2 a.m.
“When I joined my freshman year, we were way more disconnected from the Greek community,” Owen said. “They know who we are now.”