by Lauren Byers and Sean Larson
The St. Francis House, a soup kitchen and homeless shelter in Gainesville, has been forced to turn away hungry children, men and women every day. Years ago, the city imposed an ordinance affecting the St. Francis House (SFH), limiting them to serving 130 meals a day. However, the City Commission did not enforce this ordinance until 2009.
Months ago, SFH put forward a petition that addresses the Commission’s concerns, and would also change the numerical meal limit to a three-hour time frame in which everyone needing a meal could effectively be served.
Since that time, the City Planning Board unanimously recommended that this change be implemented by the City Commission.
In the past year, the Coalition to End the Meal Limit NOW has gathered dozens of letters from downtown businesses opposing the meal limit, hundreds of petition signatures from the downtown and southeast neighborhoods, and thousands of signatures through an online petition.
The Coalition has sent hundreds of postcards from Gainesville residents to City Commissioners and the Mayor, and begun a phone campaign to call our representatives.
On top of this, the Coalition has held numerous rallies at City Hall, food-sharings downtown, and pickets against the major developers who support the meal limit.
Through all of its grassroots efforts, the Coalition has been able to gauge and document the general sentiment of the community regarding the meal limit. That sentiment is overwhelmingly hostile to the status quo and open to the proposed changes.
While the rest of the community is against the meal limit, two downtown business owners have come out in support of it. The Coalition found public emails sent to the Mayor and City Commissioners from Nathan Collier, owner of Paradigm Properties, asking, “Why not LOWER the limit? Phase downtown meals out over time?”
Collier remains one of the few proponents of the meal limit, and because of the City Commission’s refusal to listen to its constituents in seeming deference to this developer, the Coalition has called for and effected a boycott of Collier Co. and Paradigm Properties. This boycott is in force as a direct result of Collier’s stance on the meal limit and the disproportionate influence he appears to hold over the Commission.
In all of this, the Coalition has made leaps and bounds towards getting this meal limit revoked, with four of the seven City Commissioners being swayed to support the SFH petition.
City Commissioners Sherwin Henry, Susan Bottcher, Jeanna Mastrodicasa and Todd Chase have stated their intent to vote to approve the SFH petition for a time frame.
Meanwhile, the Coalition has learned that this petition was on the agenda for a vote as early as May 5, but Mayor Craig Lowe unilaterally removed and postponed it.
In addition, the Mayor is the only one yet to meet with the Coalition, having cancelled a prior appointment with no plans for a new meeting. Again, it was Lowe who shamefully avoided another Commissioner’s call for a vote in the beginning of June, and it is becoming glaringly clear that the Mayor is pursuing his own agenda against the wishes of his constituents.
The Coalition applauds the aforementioned four Commissioners’ decision to support the SFH time frame petition.
According to information from City Commissioners, the expected official vote will be on July 21. The Coalition encourages everyone to go and support the Gainesville community against the meal limit.
For more updates and information, visit the Coalition’s Facebook page (search for Coalition to End the Meal Limit NOW) and check out its website at endthemeallimit.org.
Lauren Byers and Sean Larson are members of the Coalition to End the Meal Limit NOW.