Feed the hungry, but follow the law

August 26, 2013 

First, the one thing on which all can agree: Those who feed the hungry on weekends in Raleigh, when weekday soup kitchens such as the Shepherd’s Table and the Salvation Army do not provide meals, are well-meaning and good-hearted. Ministries such as Hugh Hollowell’s Love Wins and Alice McGee’s Church in the Woods have taken food to downtown Raleigh’s Moore Square for some time now.

But now they’ve been told by Raleigh police that groups can’t distribute their meals in the park without permits, which can be expensive. City Council members say they weren’t involved in the decision to end the food distribution but will address the issue this week.

Good. The policy must be addressed. We expect that a mutually acceptable arrangement can be made. The City Council has a pretty good track record in matters regarding compassionate treatment of the hungry and the needy.

Moore Square, near the Marbles children’s museum and a revitalized business area in City Market, is a pleasant place for families and for weekend outings. The city has an interest in seeing that it remains so. Regular Saturday and Sunday gatherings of charitable efforts to feed the needy in that area could be disruptive. They also could be impractical.

The homeless and the poor who may be temporarily in need of food to survive are not, after all, concentrated in one place. The city should consider offering these helpful ministries places where they can serve meals in different locations, perhaps closest to where those most in need live. That just makes sense for everyone.

This is not to say that Raleigh residents who are more fortunate should be shielded somehow from those down on their luck, or displaced poor families, or those who are simply, painfully hungry. No, an enlightened city needs to make people aware of the less fortunate and solicit those who can help to help.

There are some good alternatives here. First, in spreading out some of the charitable efforts, the food will be more easily available to people who have difficulty getting to Moore Square. In dispersing some of the charities, it will be easier for those groups to help smaller numbers of people individually but perhaps more of them collectively.

There will be less of a challenge in keeping Moore Square clean. On some occasions, it seems that churches and other groups have had a surplus of food and compassionately took it to Moore Square, but there really hasn’t been a lot of organization in the process. The servers usually clean up, but still food and debris can be left behind.

Some of those who serve say the city permits required to organize such gatherings are expensive and, for them, prohibitive. Obviously, this is something the council can address by waiving permits for charitable groups that do this duty on a regular basis.

The council’s Law and Public Safety Committee will discuss the issue on Wednesday. Everyone agrees what is the right thing to do – feed the hungry – now to figure out how to do it right.

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