While feeding the needy each day at 2 p.m., All Saints Catholic Mission has racked up more than $10,000 in fines for dodging a cease-and-desist order. This Thanksgiving, Father Bob Caudill and his congregation plan to serve turkey meals to more than 250 people.
"I'm thankful that we’re still here," Caudill says. "I'm thankful [the City of Oakland Park] didn't arrest me. I'm grateful that we're still financially above board."
This week marks the 26th Thanksgiving food sharing for the quaint Catholic Church on Powerline Road. Though Caudill admits his relationship with the City of Oakland Park has been tense, the priest and soup-kitchen founder says the past two years have been especially difficult.
"We've had issues in the past, " Caudill says, "but this has been the biggest effort to get rid of us."
After complaints by business owners and residents about the homeless who frequent the soup kitchen, the city passed a 2014 zoning ordinance that prohibited "parish houses" — defined as a "room or building associated with a church... for charitable use." In response, Caudill moved the kitchen from a separate building (his "parish house") into the church building. Now, food is served at the altar. The poor and homeless folks sit in the pews to eat.
Last November, Oakland Park ordered Caudill to stop the feedings. The fine was initially $500 per day but has been reduced to $125. Caudill says he has also accrued nearly $19,000 in legal fees.
"The good news is that [the City] hasn't tried to collect [the fines]," Caudill says. "They could put a lien on the property and seize it. I've never heard of them seizing a church, but it's always possible."
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In June, the church sued the City of Oakland Park for infringing on its religious freedom by prohibiting the food-sharing operation. The suit was filed by attorney Richard Rosenbaum on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union. It contends serving food to poor and homeless people is religiously mandated at All Saints. This allegedly makes the city's zoning ordinance and $125 daily fines a violation of the Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was passed in 1998.
Though the fines keep accruing, Caudhill remains defiant. He feeds nearly 100 to 200 people every day at 2 p.m., refuses to pay the fines, and holds vigils and protests at commission meetings and city leaders' homes.
This Thanksgiving, Caudhill says that volunteers will start working at 7 a.m. to prepare 500 turkey meals for at least 250 people. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the congregation will be serving. After 100 pies were donated to All Saints by Saint Coleman's Catholic Church, there will also be dessert.
"I don't see myself ever stopping," Caudhill says. "I'll handcuff myself to the pews if I have to."