Volunteers Arrested for Serving Free Food in Florida City Park

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