Food Not Bombs fights to give away food in parks

Food Not Bombs fights to give away food in parks

Late one afternoon this summer in Lake Eola Park, Keith McHenry got arrested — again — for trying to serve free food in public. While his compatriots were setting up a vegan meal of vegetable stir-fry, ears of corn, and potatoes donated from a local natural-food store, McHenry was on his hands and knees, using a fat marker to outline text on a large banner: "End the Criminalization of Poverty."

Lake Eola is the crown jewel of downtown Orlando. The park's fountain shimmers in the middle of the resplendent lake. Music plays through speakers mounted out of reach, and swan boats rest in view of offices and shiny new condominiums. Nearby signs warn it is illegal to "lie or otherwise be in a horizontal position on park benches" or to "sleep or remain in any bushes, shrubs, or foliage." Not a friendly place for a man who has staked half his life on drawing attention to the barriers between the rich and the poor.

McHenry, 54, had written to the end of Criminalization when a police officer stepped up behind him with a pair of handcuffs. McHenry was used to the drill at this point: Since he helped found the international Food Not Bombs movement with an anti­war bake sale in Harvard Square in 1981, he has counted 150 arrests. "Almost every single arrest has been related to Food Not Bombs," he says. Among his guiding principles: Feed "everyone without restriction, rich or poor, stoned or sober."

Keith McHenry is arrested for the first time, in San Francisco in August 1988.
Courtesy of Keith McHenry
Keith McHenry is arrested for the first time, in San Francisco in August 1988.
Haylee Becker prepares food for the weekly sharing in Stranahan Park.
Michael McElroy
Haylee Becker prepares food for the weekly sharing in Stranahan Park.

Now, on Wednesday, June 1 — just as scores of homeless people were due to stream into the park, as they had done every week since 2005 — McHenry acquiesced as usual, going off to spend 32 hours in the Orange County jail alongside two organizers of the Orlando chapter of Food Not Bombs. They were bailed out the next day, but the following week they returned to defy the law again and share food with 50, maybe 60 people. The police came back too. During June, 25 volunteers with Food Not Bombs would be arrested at the park (although the charges were later dropped).

The second time McHenry was arrested in Lake Eola Park, on June 22, he spent 17 days in jail. The judge, not sympathetic to his cause, called him a "professional protester."

The reason for the arrests: For years, residents near the park had complained that after the meals, homeless people dispersed into their neighborhoods. In 2008, the city commission passed an ordinance that outlawed the serving of food to more than 25 people at a time without a permit. The ordinance stipulated that a group could serve only twice in each park. Mayor John Hugh "Buddy" Dyer said the ordinance was intended "to be fair to individual neighborhoods" by diluting the presence of homeless people in the city's open spaces.

The Orlando Food Not Bombs chapter, along with the First Vagabonds Church of God (which has a mostly homeless congregation), challenged the law in court, but a judge in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in April of this year to uphold it.

McHenry says other groups that traditionally feed the homeless — churches, nonprofits, and county-run agencies — provide only a simple palliative to those who are stuck in the routines of poverty. They assume "there's nothing wrong with the way everything is," McHenry says, "that it's just that these individuals have failed, and now they need this food, and [the charities are] doing a good deed by serving it." But Food Not Bombs takes a less amenable stance. When its volunteers serve food, they're preaching not about Jesus but about the fact that the whole damn system that made these people homeless is broken — broken and pathetic — and that as long as "50 cents of every dollar is going to the military," as McHenry puts it, nobody should be denied the human right of sustenance in quiet complacence. Hence the banner.

In Fort Lauderdale, a scene similar to Orlando's plays out in Stranahan Park, at the exact center of the city, adjacent to the main library at Broward Boulevard and Andrews Avenue. On any given day, homeless drifters can be found catching a nap on the grass, bumming a smoke, or conversing in the shadow of commerce. Here, every Friday at 5:30 (give or take), the Fort Lauderdale chapter of Food Not Bombs shares a meal with these people under a gazebo. Other groups, mostly small ministries, also distribute food.

Until recently, the Fort Lauderdale group was also in charge of the Food Not Bombs program in Miami, catching a bus or hitching a ride down I-95 to the Stephen P. Clark Government Center on Wednesday afternoons. Operations in Miami, they say, recently have been taken over by members of Miami Chum Bucket, a punk collective in Allapattah.

But if city officials have their way, Fort Lauderdale could be the next municipality to enact an ordinance like Orlando's, banishing mass feedings from the city's parks and beaches. The City Attorney's Office is researching case law to try to prevent these food sharings in public and confine them to a more secluded spot, safely out of sight of homes and businesses.

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17 comments
jones'
jones'

Giving food to people is socialistic dropping bombs on them is capitalistic.

Pedro Lara
Pedro Lara

The pigs don't have anything better to do than to arrest someone that is trying to feed the homeless. And what's even more about this is that the pigs love it. They love to arrest people for no apparent reason other than they are violating an ordinance. I would want each pigs badge number and name so I could post there names online. But I bet even that would put me in jail. Our rights are slowly being taken away. It won't be long before our constitution is ripped to shreds by the Obama administration. Hey go after me for saying that you sorry politicians.

themanofgod.com
themanofgod.com

Brad Knoefler,

You just hit the nail on its head by saying,

"But when it destroys our little quality of life, its a problem. Do unto others.."

That's the major problem we face in the world today, no one wants to endure a little discomfort just to make others happy. You are in your comfort zone as a result you don't want anyone to mess with your selfish joy.

Which is worst a hungry man or the trash left behind from that which fed an hungry man.

What if we form a clean up crew, would you allow us to feed them in your place? do you love the homeless or the less fortunate ones so as to let them eat at your table?.

Friend I don't support breaking the law but we must put people above our selfish ways, I hope and pray none of you ever find yourself in such unfortunate situation wherein somone has to wipe your bottom or have to feed you.

That would be a day!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

naturasol01
naturasol01

In my previous comment concerning Haulover Beach Park as a place to "get it on" I may have left the impression that we did not care if you "got it on" in other places in the park or on the beach or in the ocean as long as it was not in the designated naturist beach area.

That is not our position. We are opposed to people having sex any where in this park or any park. It is also a very risky endeavor. It is lewd & lascivious behavior and a very serious crime based on todays laws.

A conviction will show up on a background check and your chances of ever getting hired anywhere will evaporate. You will not be able to live anywhere within a prescribed distance to a school or public park.

Think of under the bridge on Julia Tuttle Causeway as your new residence.

Richard MasonPresidentSouth Florida Free Beaches/Florida Naturist Association

Trafn
Trafn

In the end... what really matters.... you're born, you live, you die, and little of what you do has any lasing impact... all that really counts is being kind and sharing while we're here... and as trite as that may sound to some, it truley is all that has any immediate or lasting meaning.... nothing's perfect, but food not bombs is a wonderful heartfelt expression of kindness and sharing at the most basic level of human need... thank you to everyone at the SWAMP and FNB for doing what you do....bob

Shaktas Na
Shaktas Na

Does being hateful about your fellow man make you feel better about yourself?

Brad Knoefler
Brad Knoefler

Actually the groups that feed and are disrespectful of the residents are ruining it for everyone. Those of us who live in Downtown Miami are tired of cleaning up Styrofoam containers blowing around the neighborhood and dealing with the rats and birds due to half eaten food all over the streets because groups come and feed and then don't deal with the consequences of their actions, like picking up their trash. We have no problem with helping others, but when it destroys our little quality of life, its a problem. Do unto others..

Magicalair
Magicalair

Our rights are slowly deteriorating from us. But we must keep being loud and help one another. Freedom of speech, freedom to help, and freedom to fight for what is right, as Jim Morrison said, "they got the guns, but WE GOT THE NUMBERS" Food has always been the oldest way for man kind to connect and share its love and affection to another being and we must show and scream that it cannot be taken away from us with handcuffs and their shining armors. No one should be hungry in this country where restaurants rather throw away food, than rather feeding a hungry person.

Cidica8256
Cidica8256

What happened to the freedom of speach and to gather peacefully in protest? Since when is it illegal to give something you paid for away!? Where are the limits to the retention of our rights?!!What The #e!! is going on with our country!? Now its illegal to be kind to others too!!!???

Ann
Ann

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yokolee
yokolee

Yes food not bombs, feed Americans!

dajtv
dajtv

There are no comments because they're right.

No one, ever, should be denied food on this planet full of food, where we destroy it to keep up margins.

Gore Lando
Gore Lando

Bitch, I do what I want. I've never gotten caught and I never will be. You are kindly invited to suck on my crotchal hose until you receive the warm welcome of my DNA.

Pedro Lara
Pedro Lara

Littering is not there problem. The homeless must use the trash bins but they don't so the trash is everywhere. Helping out the homeless is a hard thing to do they will expect someone to take care of them and that's part of the problem. They should be educated to help themselves by going to programs that could help them find some kind of work.

Shaktas Na
Shaktas Na

Wrong. I am a member of FNB and the last thing we do before leaving the park is send a group around to clean up after ourselves.

nanook5
nanook5

ah yes, those pesky drop-off sharers...interestingly, those are mostly church groups...food not bombs is one of the few sharing groups that sticks around to spend time with the homeless and pick up afterwards. not that i think that would make a lot of difference with the mess in some parts of downtown miami....

 
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