By Scott Keyes on
December 4, 2013 at 10:30 am
For years, a small restaurant in western Indiana served a free meal
to customers every Thursday. Unsurprisingly, it was a big hit,
especially among those who struggle to regularly afford a hot meal. And
the number of people needing assistance has “exploded” recently; the
number of people served at soup kitchens has nearly doubled in the past
year, as the Lafayette Journal and Courier noted in its investigation.
But Buttery Shelf Eatery served, instead of serves, free meals
because of persistent complaints from some nearby businesses who did not
appreciate the presence of poor people in the area and forced the
restaurant to end its free lunches.
Despite the large crowd that showed up to Buttery Shelf Eatery — up
to 70 people at a time — there have been relatively few incidents
between patrons and no one has been arrested or even had to file a
Ravallette, a volunteer who used to receive free lunches and now helps hand them out, liked
the sense of community at the gatherings. “What I liked most about it
is that a lot of times, when you go into a public place, you don’t see a
representative segment of the community.”
Leading the charge against Buttery Shelf Eatery is Jerry Kalal, a
former marine who opened K. Dee’s Coffee and Roasting Co. in 2007 and
felt that the free lunches were scaring away customers. He estimated he
lost between $500-$800 in weekly sales as a result.
Kalal complained to Buttery Shelf owner Cherrie Buckley, telling her, “You do this little soup kitchen, but you’re closing down all the other businesses.”
Buckley refused as long as she could. Serving the needy and homeless
has been an important value in her life for decades, opening a food and
clothes pantry for the needy back in 1995.
But Kilal was persistent. He regularly contacted the police to
complain about Buttery Shelf patrons, but his claims were deemed
specious. Others in the area filed complaints as well. In one instance,
someone told police that a couple dozen people were doing drugs behind
Buttery Shelf. Unknown to the caller, however, was that police already had an officer watching on the scene who noted that the people “were just standing there waiting for the place to open.”
The most serious violation police ever encountered was patrons blocking traffic, due to the long line to receive a meal.
Finally, after enduring what one supporter described as “bullying”
for many months, Buckley decided she had to end the free lunch program.
This story — a mensch (or group of mensches) serves the needy, only
to be shut down by the local government or nearby businesses that didn’t
want the presence of homeless people — has played out in countless
communities. In Los Angeles,
the city council is considering a proposal to ban distributing food to
homeless people in public because of complaints from neighbors. In Raleigh,
a charity that for years had served meals to the needy was threatened
with arrest if they continued. In Orlando, police arrested people who
violated a city ordinance by feeding the homeless in public.
The problem boils down to the Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) syndrome.
Nobody wants homeless people to starve, but many segments of society
want them to be taken care of elsewhere. Instead of considering poor
people a valued part of the community, they’re a “problem” that should
be dealt with somewhere out of sight. Of course, everywhere is
somebody’s backyard, and so local governments like Columbia end up passing proposals to exile its homeless population as far away from downtown as possible.
For her part, Buckley is distraught over having to cease her bakery’s outreach to the poor. She recently posted on its Facebook
page: “We appreciate your support. But it is what it is and most people
will not change how they feel. We too hope that one day we will be able
to feed the community again.”