Wednesday, August 3, 2011 at 3:39 p.m.
The local chapter of Food Not Bombs, an international organization that promotes food as a human right and distributes free meals, has a lot on its plate these days. Its members claim they were harassed by Fort Lauderdale police in February, and the organization's Orlando chapter saw some members arrested in June for sharing food in a public park.
On Monday, August 1, the group diverted from its usual biweekly "sharings" in Stranahan Park and set up a small table on the sidewalk in front of City Hall, where they would be visible to government workers in the building. They wanted to bring awareness to an issue that they believe the city is trying its best to ignore: how to feed Fort Lauderdale's homeless.
Serving on the first of the month can be tricky, according to Haylee Becker, one of the activists. "On the first of the month, people get their welfare and disability checks," she explained, "and they get their drugs, their motel room." This means fewer people are looking for food on the streets.
But at least a dozen people stopped by City Hall to pick up a plate of spaghetti, salad, potatoes, and bagels. They ladled homemade iced tea into reusable cups. The activists cooked the pasta that morning. The potatoes were left over from a previous sharing, in Stranahan Park on Friday afternoon.
One man named Gil, a frequent presence in the park and at Food Not Bombs events, recounted the struggle he faced to get money for food. He pointed at a sore on his arm, where he had had blood drawn a few hours earlier. Every two months, blood donation nets him $20. He showed his blood-bank identification card.
The cops didn't hassle the activists this time, but a parking-lot security guard named Joseph Pascale walked over to tell everyone to leave. "This is City Hall," he said when asked for an explanation. He didn't cite any laws that were being broken and eventually left after the group refused to leave.
While the sharing provided a welcome meal for some people, it didn't attract direct attention from city employees. The group mentioned Cate McCaffrey, the city's Business Services director, who is also a coordinator of the Homelessness Task Force. Previously, when McCaffrey wanted to meet with Food Not Bombs, they convinced her to help share food in the park and even sit cross-legged in a "consensus meeting" in the grass. But on Monday, after weeks of no progress from the task force and uncertainty over the future of food-sharing in Fort Lauderdale, they didn't see her.
"I at least wanted Cate McCaffrey to come out and talk to us," said Becker as the group washed its dishes and packed up what was left of the food.
Weekly sharings take place at 5:30 p.m. on Fridays at the Stranahan Park Gazebo. The group is considering making Monday sharings a weekly event as well.
Up in Orlando, Mayor Buddy Dyer seems to have calmed down after calling the Food Not Bombs chapter there "food terrorists." While activists were previously arrested for sharing in Lake Eola Park, Dyer now says they're allowed to share in front of Orlando City Hall. "I think it's a good compromise," said Dyer.
Maybe Fort Lauderdale can follow suit.
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