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City should find new site for food distribution

July 25, 2013

The City of Hagerstown is admittedly in a tight place. On one hand, it is criticized for running an incubator for the downtrodden, with its mix of shelters, social services and threadbare apartments. On the other hand, it stands accused of being insensitive when it tries to do something about it.

Case in point, the city council voted last week to boot Soul Food Ministries’ outdoor soup kitchen from a city-owned parking lot located more or less in the heart of the downtown. Soul Food Ministries has been feeding the hungry every Wednesday for five years, and the central location is no accident.

Soul Food founder Carl Booker pointed out that “This right here is the heart of Hagerstown … there are children that cannot get to other locations, there are people in wheelchairs that cannot get to other locations.”

Out front, we salute Booker for his mission and for doing his part to help patch an increasingly porous safety net for the poor. It also might serve as a wake-up call to those — including the U.S. House of Representatives, which recently voted (somewhat symbolically) to end the national food-stamp program — who deny that hunger is a big problem in this country. As many as 100 people line up each week at the Soul Food tents for a bite to eat.

We do not believe the council is a panel of heartless ghouls for raising concerns. Insurance is an issue, as are appearances. The city is trying to put the best face on the inner city, and, as much as we sympathize with their plight, a line of needy and hungry people does not convey the message the city is trying to send to visitors and to commerce.

Councilman Martin Brubaker said he believes the city can support the kitchen by finding a more suitable location, and we agree with his sentiment.

This is a good and needed service, staffed by a lot of golden-hearted people. The city should do all it can to accommodate them as they continue to serve those in need. But there must be a site that is more appropriate than in the heart of Hagerstown’s commercial center.

There might be philosophical arguments against sweeping a serious social problem out of sight and out of mind. But the goal of the city is to promote a thriving downtown that ultimately might benefit at least a share of the economically disadvantaged folks by giving them the chance to find work and to buy food on their own.

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