- Over the weekend, police stopped a ministry in Raleigh from passing out food to the homeless near a park.
- Since the story broke, Love Wins Ministries has seen an outpouring of support, and Raleigh's mayor said no one will be arrested for providing food while committees work out the situation.
- The ministry has been providing breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays for anyone who wants it for the past six years because there is no other publicly-funded option for the hungry over the weekend in Raleigh.
- Why the ordinance was being enforced at this time is not known, but the square does have a planned revitalization that could move the ministry.
A charity in Raleigh, North Carolina, has for the past six years brought hot coffee and breakfast sandwiches to a local park, feeding anyone who wanted a meal. Over the weekend though, the group was met with more than just the hungry: local police threatened to arrest them if they passed out food this time.
Love Wins Ministries, a group whose mission "is to demonstrate and promote God’s love for the marginalized," was near Moore Square Saturday ready to pass out breakfast, but were confronted by the local law enforcement and prevented from doing so.
Those working with Love Wins Ministries talk to police Saturday when they were told they couldn't pass out breakfast sandwiches and coffee near Moore Square in Raleigh. (Photo: Love Wins Ministries)
"Our partner church brought 100 sausage biscuits and large amounts of coffee. We asked the officers for permission to disperse the biscuits to the over 70 people who had lined up, waiting to eat. They said no. I had to face those who were waiting and tell them that I could not feed them, or I would be arrested," Pastor Hugh Holowell, director of the ministry, wrote in a blog post.
Holowell went on to explain that the group knew from past experience that they could not use the park itself to pass out food -- that would require an $800 permit. But for years they had been able to set up their operation on the sidewalk outside the park.
"We have operated, unmolested, under this assumption for the last six years," Holowell wrote.
Holowell said that the police would not tell them what ordinance the group would now break should they pass out the food from the sidewalk.
"When I asked the officer why, he said that he was not going to debate me. 'I am just telling you what is. Now you pass out that food, you will go to jail,'" Holowell recalled.
WRAL-TV clarified that it appeared the group was in a private parking without permission lot at the time, after being informed they could not be in the park Friday.
Jim Sughrue, the police department's spokesperson, told WTVD-TV there were no arrests as a result of this confrontation.
"People were simply informed the ordinance prohibits the kinds of actions some groups have been engaged in at the park. Work is ongoing with those involved, some of whom are developing alternative sites, etc.," Sughrue told the local news station.
Raleigh's Mayor Nancy McFarlane appeared at a local rally Sunday with those supporting the ministry's work, telling WTVD-TV she isn't sure why ordinance enforcement is being enacted after all these years but noted that ultimately she thinks the outcome of this "is going to be good."
Late Sunday on the Love Wins Ministries Facebook page, McFarlane said that for the time being, no one would be arrested for passing out food in the square.
"Raleigh is a progressive city that believes in the values of each of its citizens. We are so fortunate to have dedicated citizens that want to reach out to those in need," McFarlane said in a statement. "We will be taking this issue into the Law and Public Safety Committee immediately to bring all the partners together for a transparent discussion to work out a plan to address the questions surrounding this issue."
The original blog post by Love Wins Ministries gave a few hints as to why this situation could be happening now. Holowell mentioned the planned revitalization of Moore Square and how the ministry knew they would "have to find alternative arrangements" as a result.
According to a website called New Raleigh, Moore Square a place known by Raleighites "because of the people who inhabit it, for good or bad."
"Moore Square is an intersecting space, where every walk of life, every background income level, whatever subset you want to name, can coexist, even for a small amount of time," Jesse Benjamin for New Raleigh wrote in 2009, noting several ministries set up nearby to help those in need. "Just the fact that the professional class can walk the park without fear of getting jacked and the homeless can sit on a bench all day without getting rousted is pretty cool and something that should be celebrated."
The Raleigh Public Record reported earlier this year that the 220-year-old square was getting a $14.8 million renovation. The project for upgrading the square includes a plaza, lawn, food kiosk, play area and other features.
But Holowell wrote that in its current state, this revitalization is underfunded and without a start date.
"Regardless, we will find a venue in the downtown core to feed people. We are committed to this and to our people, and it will happen," he continued, asking people to contact him if they had a private building or parking lot they were willing to donate over the weekends for the ministry's activity.
Holowell also pointed out that Love Wins Ministry was simply trying to fill a need that wasn't provided for in an "official" capacity by the city.
"On the weekends people have no where else to go other than the park because Wake County and/or the City of Raleigh offers no soup kitchens or other options on the weekends. None. There is no 'official”'place you can get a meal if you are homeless or at-risk of homelessness. You are left to your wits, and for the last six years, you could get a cup of hot coffee and a hot breakfast sandwich from us – because you could not get one from any tax funded location," he wrote.
Holowell and the ministry maintains that although "it might be illegal to feed hungry people, it is most assuredly the right thing to do."
The Love Wins Ministry did not immediately return a request for comment from TheBlaze.
Watch this report about the situation from WRAL-TV: