Editorials

Raleigh's meals program a blessing undisguised

The Oak City Outreach Center started serving meals on June 14, 2014. Over the next 5 weekends, 4,829 meals were plated. Last weekend, the Center served its 100,000th meal.
The Oak City Outreach Center started serving meals on June 14, 2014. Over the next 5 weekends, 4,829 meals were plated. Last weekend, the Center served its 100,000th meal. cseward@newsobserver.com

From adversity comes a triumph, right in downtown Raleigh, at Moore Square.

The park near the Marbles museum has also been a place of rest for Raleigh’s homeless. And it became a place of generosity for some more fortunate residents, who began to bring food to Moore Square on weekends. Donald Zepp of Wendell came with his wife and son. Todd Pratt of Raleigh came. Others who formed a volunteers group called Human Beans Together started coming.

The homeless and the working poor who enjoyed the food were grateful.

But Raleigh police thought the practice was disruptive, and some nearby restaurant owners weren’t happy about it, either. The truth is, police and restaurant owners had a point. This wasn’t about good guys trying to help the homeless and bad guys trying to hurt them. The city couldn’t allow a public park to become a gathering spot for people in need. Sometimes it was difficult to tell whether the food was reaching people who really needed it. There were safety concerns.

Pratt rightly credits Mayor Nancy McFarlane and the Raleigh City Council for helping to find a home, a charitable home, for this service.

And now the Oak City Outreach Center, which opened in 2014 in a former Salvation Army warehouse across the street from Moore Square, can celebrate serving its 100,000th meal. Now the homeless and other poor people in need of nutrition have somewhere to go, somewhere “regular.”

Pratt had it right when he characterized the initial dispute over serving food in the square as “one of those blessing-in-disguise type of things.” A problem was spotlighted. A mayor and council acted. The poor get fed. Volunteers feel gratified by being able to do something to help people.

Now it’s been 100,000 meals. It wasn’t that long ago that Raleigh crossed over the threshold of having 100,000 people in it. But this threshold is better.

That national statistics show a decline in homelessness is good, but the danger is that those who remain homeless will be forgotten or ignored. There are people in the Capital City in need of shelter, and many of them are families. There are people who don’t have enough to eat, and, yes, many of them are youngsters. (Free lunch programs don’t solve all of the problem.) There is still a need for goodhearted souls such as those who convene at the Oak City center on weekends, bringing in their own food, donations from Whole Foods, and others.

And how fortunate it is that Raleigh is big enough to have enough people to help and small enough to have a city council and mayor who listen and act.

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