Feeding needy now legal


Plates of hot and freshly prepared meals being served by members of “Food Not Bombs.”

Five years after the media firestorm surrounding the arrests of members of “Orlando Food Not Bombs,” the group is still fighting under the close eye of the city they came to blows with.

“We are the in-between the folks that are oppressed and being subjected to laws and conditions that are only exacerbating the situation of poverty,” said lead organizer Eric Montanez, the first member to be arrested, who was eventually acquitted in court after a prosecution totaling more than $170,000 spent by the state.

The group no longer gets arrested for feeding the needy, and the legal decision in the Orlando-based arrests had its impacts. The court found that public feeding is protected by the constitution as free speech, and that city officials are only allowed to schedule the location for the feeding. This compromise was seen as the best outcome for both sides, and the meals have since been moved from Lake Eola to the Orlando City Hall.

Politics aside, the needs of the homeless and unemployed in Florida and around the nation are worse now than they have been in generations. Years of economic recession have deepened the hole that is hopeless poverty. Individuals at the bottom are easy to look over and generally get left behind in time of crisis.

“They actually care about helping people and are not just worried about themselves,” said Trabis Lindsey. He moved down from Wisconsin in 2008 and has been struggling to find employment and a steady living environment ever since. He plans his days around the different food sharing events that  local churches and other groups provide.file://localhost/private/var/folders/92/92RJWVYmEYGhCYq9kXRXYU+++TQ/Cleanup%20At%20Startup/InDesign%20Snippets/Snippet_3058A7A2E.idms

The food supplied at this public table was “vegan food, cook with love and care,” like seasoned rice, stuffed portobello mushrooms, casseroles, stews, desserts, and more; quality food that has to be discarded by retailers because it is just past the recommended vendor date. Properly packed food stays fresh past this date and is still safe for consumption, but because of price controls, the stores cannot sell those products at a discounted rate.

Some of the food is instead donated by local retailers to non-profits, and is the primary source for homeless feeding groups like “Food Not Bombs” and “Second Harvest.”

“It’s always sparse and up in the air because we lost our donations before,” said Jeff Hester, who has volunteered with the group for over three years and works on several different food cultivating techniques to supplement the donated goods.

Those that came out for this free meal were vocally grateful and supportive to the group with one elderly recipient saying “God bless you,” after receiving a plate of warm food.

“The city doesn’t know how to fix this problem, they look at these people like numbers; we look at them like neighbors,” said Montanez. The legal compromise is a positive step in supporting the less fortunate of Orlando, but the members of FNB feel more needs to be done to help people get out of the vicious cycle of poverty.

There are two weekly public food sharings during the week, with a Monday morning breakfast at 9:30 a.m. and a Wednesday dinner at 6 p.m. Both meals are provided at the Orlando City Hall at 400 South Orange Avenue. This was part of the legal compromise, but Orlando Food Not Bombs has sworn to fight this because it still limits their free speech to one location.

To volunteer or learn more about Orlando Food Not Bombs, go to their website at http://orlandofoodnotbombs.org/.