***Update***: There’s a response to this response. The Rescue Mission says the church leader mischaracterized how they operate.
Yesterday, I posted about a Christian charity, the Merced County Rescue Mission in California, which told a local NPR affiliate that they could no longer serve food to homeless people because members of the church across the street felt “uncomfortable” about it.
It left the Rescue Mission workers on a hunt for a new location so the homeless could be fed, and suggested that some Christians really didn’t give a damn about the people on society who need help the most.
Two parts of that NPR article really stood out:
The mission stopped serving meals at its Canal Street location last Friday. Executive Director Bruce Metcalf says the temporary closure was prompted after complaints about the homeless from the members of the Central Presbyterian Church, which is across the street. He added that the mission wants to be a “good neighbor.”
Representatives of the Central Presbyterian Church didn’t immediately respond to our request for comment on this story.
So we never heard the church’s side of the story… which was unfortunate, since readers deserved to hear the church defend or reject those accusations.
Yesterday, I heard from someone who works closely with the church and has first-hand knowledge of this situation — he asked that I not use his name in this post — and he went into some detail about what actually happened.
The long and short of it?
The NPR article was incomplete and didn’t tell the whole story, he said.
It wasn’t just about some people feeling “uncomfortable.” The problem is that the food at Rescue Mission is distributed outside — through a window — and the recipients end up “publicly urinating, defecating, or even fully undressing” on the streets. They also throw leftover food and trash on the ground, creating something of a health hazard. This isn’t your typical soup kitchen, where you can get your food, sit at a table, and eat in peace. That’s what the church would prefer.
He added that the church really wants the program to succeed — members have long supported it, with both volunteers and money — but they want to help the Rescue Mission find a better location and more effective system to distribute the food.
Here’s the full context of what he said:
Thank you for expressing your concern about the Merced Area Rescue Mission’s feeding program and the reported story of Central Presbyterian Church’s request to relocate the feeding program. If things were actually as they’re reported in the press then, yes, we would be hypocrites worthy of the criticism we’re receiving. Unfortunately, the reporter for kvpr.org who wrote the original story did so without getting any input from the church. It is FAR MORE complex and nuanced than that “Some of the people that attend there with their young children are simply uncomfortable with some of the guests that we serve.” That grossly misrepresents the facts of the situation.
CPC has enjoyed a long and fruitful partnership with the Rescue Mission for many, many years! We are committed to a healthy, positive, and productive relationship for many years to come. In fact, we have 3 of our members who currently serve on their Board of Directors along with members who volunteer at the Mission. In addition, we donate significant financial support each year, we own the building they are housed in and make it available to them at no cost (we originally acquired it by paying off a sizeable debt the Mission owed on the property to relieve them of their oppressive financial burden), we host bible studies and recovery programs for the Mission’s residents, and are involved/committed in a host of other ways the people of Central Presbyterian Church are passionate about. For the press and comment posters to insinuate that we’re simply self-absorbed, self-centered and uncaring is nowhere near the truth.
We did have a team meet with their Board of Directors recently to request that they relocate the feeding program as it posed a health and safety risk not simply to our “young families with children,” but for residents of the surrounding community (many of whom have no connection to our church) who’d expressed concern. The Rescue Mission has been an integral part of this downtown neighborhood for a long time. The feeding program is relatively new and has not historically been part of the valuable work that the Mission undertakes. The current program not a typical Rescue Mission setting where folks can sit down, get a hot meal, and interact with caring volunteers. It’s a window that they pass food out of and folks congregate in the alleyways and on the street — at times publicly urinating, defecating, or even fully undressing on the sidewalks. We have had numerous instances of having to clean up human feces around our property on a regular basis. In addition, food and trash gets strewn about the streets of downtown Merced as recipients of the food wantonly discard the stuff they don’t wish to eat.
Let’s be clear Central Presbyterian Church in no way would want ANYONE to go hungry. We are actively and substantively engaged in a whole host of caring, servant-hearted ministries among the poor and marginalized of Merced. We were simply asking for the Mission to approach this vitally important activity in a manner that better contributed to the overall wellbeing of the entire Merced Community. We suggested a mobile distribution approach where food would be prepared in the Mission’s kitchen and then taken around to various points throughout the city where many people experiencing homelessness tend to hang out. Some of our members offered financial support, logistical support with city government officials, and one even offered to use his transportation company’s vans to help with the distribution FREE OF CHARGE! The City of Merced refused to permit such an operation without having the vans be certified by the Health Department in a manner similar to the rigorous standards imposed on restaurants and food trucks. In short, we are working with the Rescue Mission and the City of Merced to achieve a more equitable means of feeding Merced’s hungry.
Poorly informed criticism does little to advance the cause of feeding those who have fallen on hard times. Well thought out, well-managed programs, however, do!
We just thought you might want to know a more complete version of the story!
That position at least makes more sense to me.
That said, NPR should’ve included it before posting the story, the Rescue Mission’s Executive Director should’ve been more clear about why the food service had to find a new location (since he must have known the details), and the church should’ve finalized a new location before shutting the current services down.
But at least we can say this isn’t as simple as Christian hypocrisy.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to David for the link)