Charities propose calendar to address gaps in food handouts

ccampbell@newsobserver.comSeptember 27, 2013 

— Charities and city officials want to establish better communication about downtown food handouts, enabling groups to work together and fill gaps in feeding the homeless and indigent.

That was one recommendation from the first meeting of the Moore Square food distribution task force. City leaders created the group following the outcry last month that some groups were threatened with arrest for handing out food.

The meeting Tuesday night drew dozens of representatives from charities, city departments and downtown businesses. The discussion got off to a rocky start when some questioned whether assistant city manager Dan Howe was the right man to facilitate the talks. Some charity leaders wondered whether Howe would be impartial because he works for city hall.

But Downtown Raleigh Alliance director David Diaz said he has no problem with Howe running the meetings. “I’m not overly keen on bringing in an outside facilitator,” he said.

Howe said he’ll clearly separate his roles as a city representative and as an objective facilitator. He says city leaders are interested in all ideas for addressing the food distribution issue. “I think they’re pretty much open to hearing what you think,” he said.

Tuesday’s meeting focused mostly on how to improve food distribution, though more talks about possible locations will come in two October meetings.

The consensus Tuesday was that the city needs a comprehensive calendar of when and where charities offer food to the needy. One man noted that breakfast is only offered three days a week in the downtown area, leaving folks who don’t stay in homeless shelters to wait until soup kitchens open at lunchtime.

And Diaz noted that downtown’s neediest might be better off if the distribution times were more spread out; most charities come on weekends only. “We have found groups show up at the same time and are actually arguing about who’s going to feed,” he said.

The calendar could be posted and distributed around downtown and could also include details about other resources available to the needy.

Tuesday’s participants also took a look at data compiled from an earlier meeting about the resources needed for better food distributions. The top priority was restrooms: outside of the Moore Square bus station, there are no public bathrooms in downtown Raleigh.

Charities also voiced a need for handwashing stations, a safe and secure location and shelter from the elements as they provide meals.

The task force will hold two more meetings – on Oct. 10 and Oct. 22 at Marbles Kids Museum – before making a report to the Raleigh City Council in November.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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