Soup kitchen hearing not the finest hour
Lack of compassion revealed in attacks on needy, Loaves and Fishes
Published 12:49 am, Wednesday, May 7, 2014
The hearing, which dragged on pretty much every other Tuesday night from January through April, was an exhausting, at times heated, at times gut-wrenching experience for most of those involved.
And sadly, the hearing revealed an unfortunate lack of concern and compassion from some speakers for the needy individuals who are served by soup kitchen -- a revelation that does not square with New Milford's well-deserved reputation as a caring community.
The hearing was certainly a grueling one for the members of the Zoning Commission, who patiently listened to hour after hour of testimony ranging from passionate support for the Loaves and Fishes application to emotional, even angry rhetoric that, at times, bordered on fearmongering and cast aspersions on "those people" who rely on the helping hands of the folks at the soup kitchen.
The sessions were definitely tough on the leaders and helpers of Loaves and Fishes, an all-volunteer organization that has taken it on itself over the past three decades to help feed New Milford's hungry.
These good people devote countless hours stepping in to help those down on their luck, literally improving and possibly even saving lives.
And they had to sit there over the course of the hearing and listen to critics attack their competence, integrity and motives, as well as raise petty questions, like why the new site would include a bathroom, shower and washing machine.
And it could not have been much fun for any of the other speakers, from those who strongly supported the application for a new site so Loaves and Fishes can move out of the town-owned Richmond Citizen Center to those who raised sincere, legitimate questions.
To be sure, the hearing -- a necessary, important part of the process -- was not the town's finest hour.
But now the Zoning Commission must study the application, sift through all that has been said, throw out the countless comments that had nothing to do with zoning regulations, and make a decision by late June.
Zoning Chairman Bill Taylor described his panel's job well when he said, "We pride ourselves on treating everyone the same. If you meet the requirements, your application is approved. If you don't, it's not."
We are hopeful the zoners will determine the application does meet the regs, so Loaves and Fishes can get on with its work in a new home, the town can utilize the Richmond Citizen Center space for other purposes, and officials and merchants can feel relieved the soup kitchen is no longer on the Green.
But no matter how the decision comes out, it is clear at least a few local folks need to grow a little more compassion toward their fellow man.
It is also clear a number of residents need to have a bit of a reality check when it comes to poverty, hunger and homelessness in their community.
For starters, not everyone who goes to Loaves and Fishes is homeless. Far from it. Some clients own their own home; a number of them have jobs. They simply do not have enough money for everything.
Likewise, not everyone who goes to the soup kitchen is an alcoholic or drug addict. A few are, but many of Loaves and Fishes clients are simply folks who are temporarily down on their luck.
It is also important to emphasize Loaves and Fishes did not bring poverty and hunger to New Milford. On the contrary, the founders of Loaves and Fishes witnessed those human conditions in their midst, responded to them and reached out to those in need.
The reality is poverty and hunger are not going to go away if the Loaves and Fishes application is denied by the zoners. And neither will the handful of needy individuals who hang out in downtown New Milford.
The cold truth is there is poverty and hunger in New Milford, and in today's economic world of an ever-widening wealth gap, they are likely going to be here for the long haul.
Fortunately, the folks at Loaves and Fishes are there to help -- hopefully soon at 25 Bridge St., or in the Richmond Citizen Center for a longer duration, or at another centrally located site sometime in the future.