Raleigh police have threatened staff from a Christian organization with arrest if they continued to hand out food to the homeless. The staff from Love Wins Ministry (LWM) have been left stunned after the incident last Saturday, and claim they have been handing out food to the homeless every week for the past six years without problem.
While an official city ordinance forbids individuals from distributing food in a park, LWM's self-described "good working relationship with the Raleigh Police Department" has enabled them to distribute coffee and sausage biscuits to the 70 or so regular attendees for the past half decade.
When the police shutdown LWM's outreach for the homeless, they did not cite which ordinance or law authorized them to halt the breakfast. However, they did inform the ministry that they would need to obtain a park permit if they wanted to continue, which would cost the church $1,600 every weekend, although the officers added that they would be highly unlikely to be approved for one.
In their confrontation with police, LWM staffers chose not to disobey police orders and they were forced to pack up their food and drink without distributing it to the dozens of homeless people waiting. On their website, they explained their decision, saying it was rooted in an understanding of Martin Luther King Jr.'s principles of non-violent social change.
Furthermore, "sharing food in the park is a very small (but important) portion of our work. We see over 350 folks at our offices each week. We have a worshipping community of 30 – 40 people each Sunday, and a number of people in the hospital and in jail, all of whom need a pastor. If their pastor was in jail, that helps none of them," their website stated.
The Love Wins Ministry organized a protest on Sunday, at which Raleigh's mayor, Nancy McFarlane, apologized for the police department's actions and promised a positive outcome.
"I'm sorry for the confrontation or whatever happened yesterday, but I think the outcome is going to be good," she said.
The Saturday program that LWM runs is unique for the area, as they are the only group providing free meals to the city's homeless over the weekend, and no soup kitchens are open on Saturdays and Sundays. For Rev. Hollie Woodruff Duncan of LWM, the ideal result of the recent crackdown would be ensuring media coverage so that this "vacuum" of services for the homeless over the weekends could be addressed.
"The best possible outcome is that the city would realize that there needs to be a weekend feeding program...and find a grant that faith organizaitons or other non profits can apply for to run a Saturday and Sunday feeding program," Duncan told The Christian Post. [The second best would be] to help us find a place or a vacant lot... to help us feed people if we can't do it where we have been doing it, and if you can't do that, don't get in the way of using trying to help, don't criminalize our capacity."
Duncan also mentioned that the intense media support has been helpful to illuminate the reality of the challenges that the homeless struggle with.
"One of the things that is happening across the board is that people are moving back to the city and the poor are being displaced. There been lots of interesting feedback of hearing similar stories from other cities," she said. "This is an opportunity to educate people to not fear the other. Many of us are only a paycheck away from similar circumstances."
Dozens of Facebook users have voiced their support for LWM, including a user that had been fed by their weekend breakfast drive before.
"[I] have stood in line for a sausage muffin and hot chocolate and visited with these people when i lost my business and job, they do good work and do not push their religion like other groups, just there to talk and give moral support... keep up the good work and hopefully you can all find a place to continue that good work," Paul Koehn wrote.
Stephena Martin-Summers reminded LWM who they were ultimately serving.
"God Bless your efforts to feed those that can not feed themselves. Remember when entertaining strangers you may be entertaining angels unaware! God is watching and will provide an answer...I pray for all...especially the souls of the officers," she wrote.
Individuals interested in helping LWM can visit their website. The organization is currently asking the public to contact the mayor and city council to remind them that "this is a chance for Raleigh to really step up and be as hospitable a city for its most vulnerable citizens as it is for its wealthiest."
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