Every weekend, Love Wins Ministries in Raleigh, North Carolina has distributed hot coffee and breakfast sandwiches at a local park. It is part of the small ministry’s mission to help the homeless and have kept up the tradition for six years.
On Saturday, August 24, they arrived as usual with more than 100 sausage biscuits and coffee. As they prepared to hand them out to the more than 70 people waiting, an officer from the Raleigh Police Department stopped the group from distributing the food. According to founding Pastor Hugh Hollowell, “An officer said, quite bluntly, that if we attempted to distribute food, we would be arrested.”
This came as a surprise to the ministry and its church partners. It was the first time in the six years of feeding the homeless that they were ever informed that what they were doing was illegal. When they asked what ordinance they were violating, the officer was either unable or unwilling to let them know.
Raleigh Municipal Code Section 9-2022(b) states “no individuals or group shall serve or distribute meals or food of any kind in or on any City park or greenway unless such distribution is pursuant to a permit issued by the Parks, Recreation and Greenway Director.”
According to Hollowell, they were aware they could not distribute on the park grounds and were setup, as usual, on the adjacent sidewalks and not blocking any entry ways. For the past six years, they have done so without interference, and with the full knowledge of the Raleigh Police Department. They’ve been able to do their community service and not have to worry about a permit that would cost them $800 dollars per day – an amount they are unable to afford.
Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane was at an impromptu rally in support of the church on Sunday. She indicated that one of the reasons that there may have been enforcement of the policy was due to the increased numbers of people that have been at the food distribution events, drawing complaints from local businesses.
Still, she acknowledged there is a growing need.
Hollowell spoke further with the mayor on Monday and she assured him no one would be arrested for sharing food at the park. He received additional assurances from Mayor Pro Tem Russ Stephenson that the city would look into the issue but that Love Wins Ministries could continue distributing food on the sidewalk at Moore Square.
This is not enough assurance for Hollowell. He is still awaiting a formal communication from the city ensuring that they can continue their efforts. In the meantime, they are seeking other locations, including other churches in the area to partner with. One such location, the Salvation Army building near the square, was a consideration. However, according to the ministry’s website, that building is also owned by the city and they were recently notified that no food distribution could occur from that location either.
No word yet if Love Wins Ministries will be at the park this weekend.
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