Volunteers Arrested for Serving Free Food in Florida City Park

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June 9, 2011; Source: Orlando Sentinel | Nine people were arrested over two nights last week in Orlando, Fla., charged with feeding the homeless illegally. The nine were volunteers for an international nonprofit, “Food Not Bombs,” and they’ve been long hosting free vegan meals three times a week. Typically 30 to 35 people show up for the meals, which rotate among three city parks. Until recently, these events did not require a permit.

In April, however, a federal appeals court upheld a new Orlando city ordinance, which limits groups who feed more than 25 people at a time to two permits per year at each park within a two-mile radius of City Hall. The “Food Not Bombs” group, which unsuccessfully appealed the ordinance, continued to serve meals in city parks without a permit. This led to the arrests.

According to Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, the group had used up its chances to use the park. He said, “If people violate (the ordinance), then we have enforcement procedures.” As he was arrested, Food Not Bombs co-founder Keith McHenry said, “We don’t fault the city of Orlando for being in this dilemma, because it really is a national problem. There needs to be a national solution.”

Orlando is a flashpoint for the group’s activism because other Florida cities are considering similar regulations. It’s ironic that early arrests occurred at Lake Eola Park, the same downtown park that’s hosted several Tea Party rallies with thousands of people protesting big government. For now, the city and the nonprofit are unable to find any common ground for common meals.—Kathi Jaworski

  • kevin

    Funny. We have a non-profit that is primarily an international program, we hear all the time “why arent you feeding starving people in america” Well here is our answer, because city ordinances are more important than those that are going hungry. I get why the ordinances were established, but when a legitimate non-profit is trying to make a difference, well the rules should be a little different. Like if you start causing problems, then in will become our problem. But until it does, why dont we quit whining about the lack of help for the American homeless, when we are the ones prohibiting it with our black and white laws. My wife is starting a food not bombs in our area, because of these situations, we took preemptive measures and asked that permits be extended to accommodate for one feeding per week at no cost. After all, food not bombs is also not a vendor and is providing a free service(food) at no cost and no gain.

  • Patrick Bell

    And what, pray tell, is the reason for the ordinance? If I had a family potluck in the park, would I need a permit? I find it particularly telling that the parks in question are close to the city center, not in the suburbs. What if they bused the homeless to the ‘burbs to feed them?

  • FNB Orlando Member

    The reason for the ordinance is found on a document shown here: http://www.aclufl.org/pdfs/OrlandoHomelessOrder.pdf

    Taken from footnote 5 found on page 3:

  • Alex Lizzappi

    Charge 5 cents, will that resolve the issue?

  • Laura W-M

    In Columbus, OH there is a group that has permission from a local business that owns a parking lot to serve food to the homeless a few times a week – no charge. I’m willing to wager that there are businesses in Orlando that would offer this – makes the park venue a non-issue. Unless, of course, there is an ordinance against serving free food on private property . . . Knock on wood

  • leetilson

    Apparently, restricting feedings is not enough. Now Orlando has asserted its right to require permits before for signs expressing opinions about the City’s actions. According to this WFTV article, http://bit.ly/OrlandoVSFirstAmendment , Orlando officers told this group ” holding signs, balloons or pennants anywhere in the city without a permit is a violation of city code. The city said that violating the rule can result in a $150 fine. ” See article and video, esp. portion of video between 0:48 (secs) – 1:34. http://www.wftv.com/news/28296161/detail.html

    This follows 21 ARRESTS on June 1, 6, 8, 13, & 15 FOR FEEDING THE HOMELESS in Eola Park, Orlando, FL

    Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_218392238181612
    Master list of newspaper articles – https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10150204401765808
    Links to articles in spreadsheet – http://bit.ly/LeeTilsonPeopleMatterOrlandoChronology
    21 ARRESTS FOR FEEDING HOMELESS – http://www.foodnotbombs.net/orlando_wall_of_compassion.html
    Wednesday, June 1 – 3 arrests – http://thesent.nl/June1Arrests
    Monday, June 6 – 4 arrests – http://sunsent.nl/June6Arrests
    Wednesday, June 8 – 5 arrests – http://sunsent.nl/June8Arrests
    Monday, June 13 – 3 arrests – http://bit.ly/June13Arrests
    Wednesday, June 15 – 6 arrests – http://bit.ly/June15Arrests
    Monday, June 20 – 0 arrests – http://bit.ly/June20Encounter

  • ASCulottes

    Updates, and what’s to come with Food Not bombs

  • Keith Brinson

    I too believe there should be some leyway for established non-profits to feed the homeless. They are there to help and not to cause problems.
    Homelessness is going to get worse as more and more people like myself lose their homes to unscupulous lenders that can get away with putting disabled veterans and any others out on the streets.
    There is a great need to PREVENT homelessness in order to curtail the vast and ever growing numbers of homeless families and individuals.