By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor
Delray Beach’s Caring Kitchen will serve its last hot meal to the hungry on Oct. 31.
That is what the city commission decided last month after hours of public comment and two years of complaints from neighbors asking the city to help find the soup kitchen a new home.
“We are thankful for the services that the Caring Kitchen provides,” president of the nearby Paradise Heights neighborhood Pamela Williams said. “We aren’t going against the services that have been provided. We are going against the location. We were told two years ago they would be relocated. I have the right to a certain quality of life.”
The Caring Kitchen is located in the NW/SW neighborhoods of the city, at 196 NW 8th Ave. It has been there for the past 20 years. It leases its space from the city for $1 per year. In 2015, the nonprofit, which is overseen by Cros Ministries, made a request to expand the facility.
That is when the neighbors said they had enough and told commissioners the Caring Kitchen had outgrown its space and needed to be relocated.
“It’s been a long 30 months,” resident Reggie Cox said of the conversations surrounding moving the kitchen. “Our property values are at stake. The loitering, the criminal activity is higher than average. We deserve a healthy neighborhood, a safe neighborhood, a walkable neighborhood.”
Over the past year, Assistant Police Chief Javaro Sims said the police department has responded to 125 calls for service at the Caring Kitchen. Those calls were for public intoxication, trespassing, overdoses, assault and other offenses.
“This is a large number of calls for service in any one area,” he said. “The Caring Kitchen is a great program and its necessary, but it doesn’t belong in a residential area. There is a quality of life issue in this area.”
Residents said they have dealt with people sleeping on their property, witnessed fights and cleaned up trash left behind by people going to the Caring Kitchen.
“We have had to deal with the good, bad and the ugly,” resident Joycelyn Patrick said. “The Caring Kitchen has outgrown the location.”
Caring Kitchen staff and volunteers said they serve a large part of the community they are located in. They said they need time to find a new location and to raise money for the space and a build-out.
As a compromise, commissioners unanimously agreed to let Caring Kitchen staff have access to the current facility for an additional nine months after the hot meal service stops. The staff will be able to prepare meals and use the building for storage, but they will not be able to serve food.
If they violate the terms of the new lease, the city manager will be able to evict the staff from the location.
Caring Kitchen officials said they will begin speaking with local churches and other organizations that would be willing to help distribute hot meals. They currently serve about 6,000 meals per month.
Since the topic about moving the Caring Kitchen came up, the city had been working with the nonprofit to find them a new home. An idea was proposed to move them into the city’s historic Train Depot, but support for that plan fell through earlier this year after commissioners decided the site is dangerous for pedestrians to access.
Since then, Caring Kitchen officials said they have had a hard time finding a new location that they could afford.
Commissioner Jim Chard said the city owns a site on 10th St. and 10th Ave. that may be a new potential location. The site is a retention pond and would require analysis to see if it could be built on. The Caring Kitchen would have to negotiate a new agreement with the city and raise money to build a new facility on the site if an agreement were reached.
With a new location undetermined, commissioners sided with the residents.
“If this was something happening in my neighborhood, next door to me, I would be really upset and tired of it,” Commissioner Shelly Petrolia said. “I understand how the neighbors are feeling. At the same time, I know this is an important service.”
Mayor Cary Glickstein agreed, “It has been a bedrock in our community. The time has come to put an end to the suffering the people in the neighborhood are experiencing.”