Every Thursday, Cherrie Buckley has been opening the doors of her Main Street business, the Buttery Shelf Eatery, to those who were less fortunate in Lafayette, Indiana, and serving them a free meal. But not everyone, including some other business owners, has commended Buckley for her generosity.
Jerry Kalal, the owner of K. Dee’s Coffee and Roasting Co., said the free lunches were scaring customers away, costing him hundreds of dollars in lost sales and leading to fights and littering in the street. Makenzie Kus, whose Something Blue Bakery is also on Main Street, said that there was “cursing and fights” among the Buttery Shelf patrons that made her feel “uneasy” as her cliental consists most of “moms who regularly bring their children.” As of September 28, the Buttery Shelf Eatery is no longer serving free lunches.
As Kalal said to JCOnline.com,“I said, ‘You do this little soup kitchen, but you’re closing down all the other businesses. I’m not against helping people, but when it hurts my building and other businesses, I go off.”
Lafayette police officers had received a number of complaints (one from K. Dee’s Coffee and Roasting Co.) about those lining up for lunch at the Buttery Shelf. As things turn out, their most severe “offense” was blocking traffic. One caller claimed that Buttery Shelf Eatery patrons were doing drugs behind the restaurant; on investigating, officers said they were actually “just standing there waiting for the place to open.”
Buckley’s commitment to helping those in need is longstanding. In 1995, she started Seeds of Hope Community Pantry and Clothes Closet; this expanded into Seeds of Hope Community Ministries, a nondenominational effort that was partially aimed at assisting the homeless and mentally ill. The Buttery Shelf Eatery also makes a habit of employing those who have had such challenges.
A “Not in My Neighborhood” Attitude
The unspoken reason that Buckley ended the free lunches was, as Think Progress observes, that people are glad to talk about how important it is to help the homeless and the hungry so long as this does not occur in their own vincinity. Kalal and other business owners in effect bullied Buckley into ending the free lunches. This is much like some communities, such as Los Angeles and Orlando, who are considering (or have passed) restrictions on feeding the homeless.
Other Indiana organizations that feed the hungry have encountered a similar attitude. Food Finders Food Bank is an umbrella organization that provides food to more than 160 member agencies in 16 Indiana counties; it will move 6.5 million pounds of food this year and has been looking for a new, larger location. Katy Bunder, Food Finders’ executive director, said that property owners or businesses have discouraged her from taking several sites as they “aren’t keen on the idea of food trucks coming and going or long lines of the food-insecure milling about.”
“I think the stigma is that a food bank gives a negative message,” Bunder said. “So if you have it on your street, it tells you that the area isn’t as economically viable as it once was.”
The End of Free Lunches in Lafayette
Some other businesses regret the end of the free lunches. Ivan Brumbaugh, owner of Main Street Cheese and Wine, said that he “just hated to see the Thursdays shut down” and “that one person in this town or on this block has enough power to shut things down or to make it so rough (that) people are afraid to do it.”
The end of free lunches at the Buttery Shelf Eatery has occurred at a time when many in Indiana are going hungry. 13.5 percent of the state’s households are considered “food insecure“; nationwide, the number is 14.5 percent, a 2013 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture has found. In Tippecanoe County where Lafayette is located, 16.9 percent of residents — 28,800 people — are considered food insecure.
During the 2008 recession, local food pantries found that more people were showing up at their doors, says Jennifer Layton, executive director of Lafayette Transitional Housing Center. In just the past two fiscal years, though, twice the number of people have been in need of food donations. 8,513 people were served from October 2011 to December 2012; in the same time period in the following year, 15,754 people were served.
While many seeking food donations are homeless, jobless or unable to work, there are also “families where maybe both parents have bachelor’s degrees but are trying to find jobs and are overqualified, and this is a gap they’re trying to fill,” as Rachel Ravellette, a volunteer at the Elmwood Church food pantry, says. “What a lot of people don’t realize is how many people don’t realize where their next meal is coming from.”
Once, some of them knew where they could get lunch in Lafayette in Thursdays — but not anymore.
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