Prosecuting the Potluckers: Activists Face Legal Challenges for Feeding the Homeless

By Alan Clapsaddle 3-10-2009

Jim Wallis wrote a great post last week entitled "Potluck Perspective." Unfortunately, sharing food with 'the least of these' is again drawing the ire of those uncomfortable looking at those dealing with homeless and poverty.

Attorney Jackie Dowd and I were putting the finishing touches on our appellate brief to the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta in the case of First Vagabond Church of God and Orlando Food Not Bombs, vs. The City of Orlando. In October of last year, the U.S. District Court in Orlando struck down the City of Orlando Ordinance that criminalized sharing food with the poor and homeless in city parks. Ignoring media editorials and public outcry, the mayor appealed the court's ruling.

The city's appellate brief is available on our Web site, as will be our answer later today.

We have heard from groups in three more cities around the country this week that are incurring the wrath of local government officials for living out 'Potluck Economics." In Middletown, Connecticut, the local Food Not Bombs (FNB) chapter is appealing a 'legal order' which threatens 'police action' if the group does not cease and desist dispensing food (unless they buy a $20 permit each time they share food and submit the menu two weeks in advance). In Albuquerque, New Mexico, FNB activists face $3,000 in fines, and are expecting a summons and forced removal from their food sharing this week. And Northampton Food Not Bombs in Massachusetts has been told by police that the group can't dispense food without a health department permit; they're planning to simply tell the police that they're having a public potluck/picnic to which anyone and everyone is invited.

The National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty published "Feeding Intolerance," a report outlining legal measures taken against food sharing across the country in November of 2007. Wouldn't you think that with the current economic crisis there would be more understanding and compassion?

Rev. Alan Clapsaddle is a social justice advocate and blogger in Orlando, working with the National Homeless Coalition and Alan serves at First UCC Church of Orlando.

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