Stop Everything. People Being Fed in West End

By , September 11, 2013 9:56 am

While some residents are trying to free their neighborhoods of the drug trade so their children can play outside safely, the West End is apparently mobilizing to crack down on a real scourge: a food pantry being operated by the Grace Seventh-Day Adventist Church on Prospect Avenue.

According to the church website, “part of being a good neighbor is providing services to our surrounding community.

But these services have created enough concern for some that the West End Civic Association (WECA) has sent an email to its members soliciting comments about the pantry.

Gail Billet, the President of WECA, says that the City asked her to “provide WECA’s position on this topic,” as Licenses & Inspections will be meeting on September 12th at 9am to discuss this item.

It seems a no-brainer to allow humans access to the basics — food and shelter — especially when the goods and services are provided through private donation, but Billet says “this is more complex than it appears.”

“Many,” she says, have shown concern about “parking, traffic, zoning, community support, and other thoughts.”

Grace Seventh-Day Adventist Church is located on the section of Prospect Avenue near Elizabeth Park, Faith Assembly of God, and private residences.

Last year when CREC proposed the expansion of a school in the West End, there were also complaints that area traffic would increase.

At time of publication, there is no mention of this issue on WECA’s Facebook page. No word on how WECA fundraiser Dine Around the West End impacts parking and traffic in the area.


71 Responses to “Stop Everything. People Being Fed in West End”

  1. Rachel says:

    Sorry, but where in this report has WECA engaged in anything that resembles a “crackdown” on the food pantry?? Since when is soliciting comments from neighbors a “crackdown”? Especially when the solicitation seems initiated by the City, not WECA..? Seems like unnecessarily inflammatory language, and your last sentence just sounds bitter.

    • Bitter? No.
      Snide? Yes.

      If you read the link in that last sentence, you might be enlightened about the amount of traffic potentially created by the event. Would a food pantry come close to generating this? No, really. Would it? And is parking more of a priority than having our fellow human beings able to meet their most basic of needs?

      • Rachel says:

        I did read the article, and what you have failed to recognize is that the majority of those 240 guests (in 2011, by the way), already LIVE in the West End and mostly walked to the event.

        Either way, again, nothing that WECA has done even implies that it is “cracking down” on the food pantry. Just seems like you may want to remove some of the shockingly obvious bias from your reporting.

        • It seems you are not familiar with the intention of this site. While other news outlets fake objectivity, we don’t. We call it as we see it. What we saw was an email soliciting commentary on a food pantry that has been running for a long time. When I asked the President of WECA what this was about, she said that residents were expressing concerns. She did not say that anyone was applauding the food pantry’s existence. I can’t invent facts or quotes.

          Regardless, I think you missed/are dodging the point. How many vehicles are actually creating a nuisance and how can anyone possibly say that their access to parking trumps the ability for others to fulfill the basic human need of access to food?

        • Jim C says:

          My wife and I went to that event in 2011 and most other years too because, after all, it is THE social event of the season, don’t you know. And most people do not walk.

        • I am a former West End Civic Association Vice President. I resigned because of structural racism in the organization. This story is a vivid reminder of why I left, but it’s mild compared to other racist behavior that I witnessed. Of course, WECA apologists will find a way to justify this church being blindsided by today’s L&I meeting and the motivations behind WECA’s actions. During my tenure as VP which ended a few years ago, WECA refused to support racial justice legislation at the State Capitol and also would not hold a white paid staff member accountable for misconduct toward a minor who was a member of their youth group. WECA has not changed at all.

  2. Adam P says:

    Man, Jesus himself couldn’t heal the sick in this town without some officious busybody complaining about how it was going to take away parking spots.

    • Richard says:

      Nor could he as in this case feed the hungry. I don’t get it. How many people does WECA think will be there at the pantry at any given time. As you say Kerri events bring in more traffic than a food pantry ever will. Is it that old NIMBY? It will be very interesting to hear what the neighbors have to say.

      • Some people I have spoken with in the West End are also having the same reaction of “Really?!” regarding the parking/traffic complaints.

        What’s interesting is that L&I reached out to WECA for input. L&I does not do this for every NRZ or for every matter that goes before them.

        • Martha Kelly says:

          In my experience most attendees at food pantries arrive on foot. But perhaps in the West End they arrive in Saabs and Mercedes.

  3. Shannon says:

    Um, WECA supported the 2012 CREC proposal. As the link you posted even says. Not sure why you would try to mislead readers with that little quip. Agree with the above poster, this does come across slightly bitter.

    • Misleading? This is pointing out that regardless of eventual support from WECA, there were residents from the West End who bitterly opposed the school entirely on grounds of traffic and parking. As I responded to Rachel, I can’t change facts. In the past, West Enders made a stink over just this issue.

      Y’all don’t know from bitter.

  4. Jim C says:

    I would like to offer a lukewarm defense of my hood, hands down the most fashionable, fabulous neighborhood in Hartford (just ask us). I think characterizing WECA response as a crackdown is premature. No question that there are NIMBYs living here. And many of them have the wherewithal to get their way. Granted, WECA has its well-to-do dogooder side. Nevertheless, it also supports a lot of Westenders of all stripes attempting to do the right thing.
    One last thing, if you don’t want your Tisane privileges revoked, you better watch your step, young lady.

  5. Brooks P says:

    Dine Around, really? You want to compare something that is once a year in the evening to something that could generate vehicle traffic every day? I got the WECA email, and labeling it is a WECA crackdown is just sensationalizing this issue. For better or worse, the West End does have a share of people that like to oppose change, but tell me what neighborhood doesn’t.

  6. Luis says:

    I think the real story is, as was pointed out above, the fact that L&I would solicit opinion from the NRZ towards a hyper local situation.

    This is quite honestly an awesome proactive approach and one that should be the norm…not the exception.

    I think the cool peeps outweigh the NIMBYs in el West-o End-o and have no doubt that logic and human compassion will prevail in this case.

    Of course if it doesn’t….


  7. Richard says:

    On Prospect Ave. cool peeps? I really don’t think that WECA or l&l should have anything to do with what a church does. Part of its mission is to feed the hungry and I salute the church for trying to do its job when so many others do not. But of course we all know what happened when Center Church tried to fulfill its mission.

  8. Susan Reynolds says:

    Oh my.. That pantry has been in that location forever. Am I surprised that there are people in the West End complaining about parking? No. They are always complaining about parking. But seriously I agree with Luis that the real issue is why did L&I reach out to WECA on this issue. WECA is not the heartbeat of the neighborhood. There was a time that it was close to being but that was years ago. All you get from WECA now is a homeowners thoughts. Not much more. So yea parking would be top of their list.

    • Josh LaPorte says:

      I quite agree with Susan. I doubt that L&I would reach out to other neighborhoods over a food pantry, and furthermore doubt that WECA would solicit comments if the proposed food pantry was sited on Evergreen Avenue.

      I’ve lived or worked within a block of three different food pantries; none of them created any issues for the immediate neighbors. All were very much supported by the community. Food pantries distribute food for relatively short blocks of time on a weekly basis.

      • This food pantry has actually been in operation for awhile. A little strange that suddenly it’s an issue for anyone.

        Hunger can create desperation. Do we want *that* in our backyards?

      • Martha Kelly says:

        The Methodist Church on Farmington and S Whitney has very orderly distributions. And no pantry I know of operates daily. I helped out at Northend Church of Christ on Alany Ave for years and 95% of customers walked in.

    • It has been in operation for a long time. Strange that it would become an issue now. From sources in City Hall, the pressure is coming from some in the West End.

      • Josh LaPorte says:

        Go figure. I grew up in the West End and no longer recognize it as the neighborhood I remember. These people who seem to have accidentally ended up living there have a lot to say about a lot of innocuous stuff which has been going on since the dawn of time; Case in point, on street parking on Oxford Street and two families being occupied as three families (since the 1960’s) and suddenly all of this is an issue. I wish these people would just move back to wherever they came from.

        • Josh LaPorte says:

          I should also say that I think this is a VERY small minority of West Enders. But they seem to be very vocal and insistent. And they’ve really upset the apple cart. I think that they do not realize that for all its tranquility the West End is still an urban neighborhood.

          • Jim C says:

            There are parts of the West End that are urban. There are other parts that are more like an upscale West Hartford neighborhood. One block has recreational drugs for sale. Then there’s Woodside Circle.

            • Josh LaPorte says:

              I wasn’t thinking of urban crime, I’m thinking of residences, businesses, institutions, and parks located in close proximity, the need for those diverse groups to be capable of being respectful and supportive of each other. For decades the West End has functioned very well with this diversity of land use, and suddenly some members of WECA seem to be attempting to use zoning regulations in to create an all-residential neighborhood.

  9. Susan Reynolds says:

    I also think it is interesting that no one has complained about the tie ups caused by the West End Farmers Market. On Tuesdays and Fridays traffic crawls through there. And Parking non existent.. Gee I wonder why there is so much issue around a pantry..

    • Richard says:

      Maybe because a farmers market is cool, from the farm to the table, coolest thing happening this summer, but a free food pantry on Prosect Ave. is not Now we have to think where it is located. As Josh says no one would be making a stink if it were on Evergreen but out there near the big homes, the ritzy ditzy is something else.

      I don’t give a fig about a WECA, L&I or a NRZ, I care about feeding the hungry and churches doing their job. Just think if all the churches feed the hungry, clothed the naked, shelter strangers, visit prisoners, give drink to those who thirst, look after the sick and break down the concept of the undesirable other what a radical transformation would happen in this society.

      Parking or no parking is an excuse, traffic problems are a excuse, the real issue is whomever does not want to see the poor or jobless on Prospect Ave.

      Now please don’t get me wrong I haven’t gotten all churchy I am still a communist.

      • Susan Reynolds says:

        The food pantry is on Whitney across from Noah Webster.. There is another food pantry that they aren’t saying anything about because it is not north of Farmington Ave. It is on South Whitney St at the United Methodist.

        • Richard says:

          I took it from the article above that the pantry was at the church on Prospect Ave. That is where that church is. I don’t know about the other two. Isn’t that the one on Prospect that we are talking about or does the church run one somewhere else? I am confused but stand by my post of the duties of the churches.

          • Josh LaPorte says:

            The Seventh Day Adventist Church on Prospect is the one discussed in the piece above. I don’t know if they’ve had a food pantry in the past or not. Miss. Mimi’s pantry, as Susan mentioned, is (barely) south of Farmington Ave and has been running for ages. It only does good things for the West End (food generally, turkeys and christmas trees at the holidays, lots of community connection always).

          • Susan Reynolds says:

            Sorry I did screw up on which pantry… I misread.. It doesn’t really change anything. If the pantry were south of Farmington Ave no one would care.. But it is not it is in a nicer section of the West End and we can’t have poor people there..

        • The one being complained about is on Prospect Avenue.

          • Richard says:

            So folks the one being complained about is on Prospect ave. Now lets work out from there. Is that still the cool peeps, love me I am a liberal west end? Most likely they could be the Farm to the table folks, but poor, needing food perhpas not.

      • I’m glad you spelled this out. Dine Around is a cool event. The Farmers’ Market is a cool event. Deciding not to allow these because of potential traffic problems would be ridiculous.

  10. Val Bryan says:

    I’m on the WECA board when this came up last night. I proposed that WECA abstain from taking any position with the City and let L&I determine what’s going on and whether there are any licensing issues relatng to parking, etc. Several other folks on the board did not support what WECA did. I agree with many of the comments on your blog, Kerri, and stated last night that the West End may be viewed as elitist and uncaring; and reminded folks that 1 in 4 children in the U.S. live in poverty. Breakfast and lunch in school can’t fill the gap alone. Go to the L&I meeting tomorrow if you can. I would but am working at Grow Hartford tomorrow.

  11. Chris Brown says:

    One thing that could alleviate those suffering from West End Parking Anxiety(WEPA) would be if fewer people drove and the remaining drivers learned to parallel park properly.

    The vehicular docking incompetence around Elizabeth Park on a busy day rivals that of Blue Back Square. Perhaps I should be a freelance field consultant for the parking impaired. I can walk around and park the cars and SUV’s of people with vehicular spatial impairments. Don’t let WEPA get you down!

  12. WECA has officially taken a stance on this issue, according to an email issued by its President: “WECA supports enforcing the R-8 zoning regulations which do not allow this type of activity at this location on Prospect Avenue.”

    • Josh LaPorte says:

      That really takes the cake. I don’t know what has happened to the West End (and to its “well-to-do-dogooders”) but this decisions smacks of elitism, racism, and a generally unfriendly outlook. I would like to know who on the WECA board voted infavor of this position. I thank Val and others for trying to sway them to stay out of the issue.

    • Luis says:

      …and there you have it. :-)

      This is the real story. I really tried to give them the benefit of the doubt. Seems like another example of the few making laws for the many.

  13. Kerri says:

    There is more to the WECA statement, but this is the key point being made. There will be a follow-up article with full statement, context, and new details.

  14. Aida Nunez says:

    To WECA I say, Shame on you. God forbid that YOU All are ever in need of a little help. Enjoy your Dine around, movies and everything else you do for your ownselves while families go to bed hungry.

  15. Before either the City of Hartford or the West End Civic Association go too far down this road they may want to consider the legal precedent that would protect a soup pantry operated by a church under the Free Exercise Clause of the 1st Amendment. In the case of Fifth Ave. Presbyterian Church v. City of New York, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a permanent injunction against NYC barring it from interfering with a church-sponsored program that provided a safe place for homeless people to sleep on church property. NYC appealed to the US Supreme Court, which declined to hear its appeal.

    Here’s a quote from the federal district court case, which the Court of Appeals upheld, “Once the zoning authorities of a city permit the construction of a church in a particular locality, the city must refrain, absent extraordinary circumstances, from in any way regulating what religious functions the church may conduct. Zoning boards have no role to play in telling a religious organization how it may practice its religion. A city cannot use its zoning laws to regulate the way a particular religion offers its prayers or the way a religion celebrates its holidays.”

    The court noted that helping poor people is often a part of a church’s mission, and therefore such programs will generally be treated as protected activity under the First Amendment.

    • Richard says:

      As always thank you Peter. That is exactly what I have been trying to say. Let’s hope that the city takes heed.

  16. Richard says:

    Thanks again as always Kerri for your fine reporting. I wasn’t expecting the decision of WECA to be any different than it was. It is really a shame when church going folks try to do the job that is theirs to do and people get in the way. I don’t know what anyone was thinking that people would allow a food pantry to exist on Prospect Ave. Its a wonder that they allowed the church to exist there. Waiting to read your next article on this. Thanks again.

  17. JoAnne Bauer says:

    Thank you, Peter for the legal, and in my opinion totally logical take on this. I agree with Josh LaPorte’s thoughtful comments. It is a sad day indeed when a civic association/NRZ votes to deprive a church from feeding/providing food for folks on their own property.

    • Perhaps a traffic study needs to be done to compare the “problems” created here with those on Farmington, Whitney near the school, Sisson, and West Boulevard.

      • JoAnne Bauer says:

        …or for that matter, Kerri, at the Law School. Yesterday, I saw what I would consider not just a parking but a traffic problem, given tht at least 10 cars were parked on the curve at Sherman and Fern, two-thirds of the way into the street…

  18. […] City of Hartford does not intend to close the doors on the food pantry operated out of the Grace Seventh-Day Adventist Church in the West End. Jeff Cohen reports that the […]

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