This past Saturday, Rev. Hugh Hollowell and other members of Love Wins Ministries (LWM), a Christian organization based in Raleigh, shuttled over hot coffee and 100 breakfast sandwiches to feed the needy downtown. Though a Raleigh city ordinance prevents anyone from distributing food in a park without a permit, LWM had a “good working relationship with the Raleigh Police Department” and had disbursed food from the sidewalk for the past six years, according to the group’s website.
However, this weekend was different, for reasons that are not yet clear. As LWM was setting up, they were approached by Raleigh police officers who informed them that if they tried to hand out their breakfast sandwiches, they would be arrested. As 70 needy people watched and waited for breakfast, LWM was forced to pack up the sandwiches and leave without distributing any food. They were told that a permit would cost $1,600 every weekend for use of the park, but the officer allegedly told them it was unlikely their application would be approved regardless.
As LWM notes, there are no soup kitchens in Raleigh that are still open on the weekends, so their work has been pivotal in making sure hungry people get a meal on the weekends.
ThinkProgress left a message with the Raleigh Police Department as to why, unlike in past years, the ordinance was now being strictly enforced, but did not hear back before publication. Police spokesman Jim Sughrue told ABC 11 that “People were simply informed the ordinance prohibits the kinds of actions some groups have been engaged in at the park.”
For her part, the mayor of Raleigh is already taking action. During a rally on Sunday in protest, Mayor Nancy McFarlane showed up and apologized for the encounter, saying, “I’m sorry for the confrontation or whatever happened yesterday, but I think the outcome is going to be good.” She said she would convene a meeting soon about how to rectify the matter. In the meantime, LWM is looking for an alternate downtown location to distribute food on the weekends, such as a private building or parking lot, and asking for any leads to contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LWM are not the only people who have been threatened with arrest recently for daring to feed hungry people in public. In 2011, three members of a charitable group Foods Not Bombs were arrested in Orlando for passing out food to the homeless in a public park. Similarly, an 82-year-old Hartford, Connecticut man who had distributed free haircuts to the homeless for the past decade in a local park, was ordered to stop by police officers in June because he didn’t have a license, though he was eventually allowed to continue his charity work after the ensuing media firestorm.