Our Daily Bread welcome neighbor in East Baltimore

Soup kitchen's move to Preston Street seen as boon to area

April 29, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Four children died in a house fire down the street three years ago. A red awning announces the drug recovery house at the other end of the block. Planks of wood have replaced the windows and doors on adjacent row homes now abandoned.

Yet the residents in this aching East Baltimore neighborhood have a message for downtown business owners who want to ship into their midst the 900 poor men, women and children fed daily by the Our Daily Bread soup kitchen.

We'll take them.

The woes of the Johnston Square neighborhood east of the Jones Falls Expressway and north of the state penitentiary are so bad that plans announced Tuesday to move the city's largest downtown soup kitchen into the area are being viewed as a possible catalyst for renewal. The way residents see it, what's 900 more troubled souls?

"If that's a way of helping people, why not?" said Bryant Coward, a 30-year-old resident who lives in the 400 block of E. Biddle St. a few steps from the proposed site. "They already have a couple of recovery houses on the block."

"I have no problem with it at all," said the Rev. Reginald Johnson, who operates seven Recovery King drug rehabilitation houses, including one near Coward's home. "I see a deep need for it because there are so many homeless and hungry in the area."

On Tuesday, Cardinal William H. Keeler of the Archdiocese of Baltimore said the city's most visible soup kitchen will move from its downtown Cathedral Street site to East Baltimore.

The move follows nine months of debate over whether the kitchen Pope John Paul II visited in 1995 should be located in the path of downtown redevelopment efforts. Downtown business owners pushed for the move because of the swelling ranks of Our Daily Bread clients and related panhandling and loitering.

Advocates for the poor predicted that businesses would sweep the poor out of sight and into a struggling nearby neighborhood that lacked the political muscle to fight the move.

But Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke agreed yesterday that the $10 million plan to move and expand Our Daily Bread, which includes renovating the dilapidated East Preston Street building, should aid the neighborhood.

Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos recently bought the building for an undisclosed amount and donated it to the diocese to spur the move.

Schmoke lauded Angelos' effort yesterday, saying that it could solve two problems. "This was a decision that is part of an effort to uplift a neighborhood," Schmoke said. "This decision with respect to Our Daily Bread will compliment an overall community."

City Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III agreed. "This is a building that has plagued the community for years," Henson said of the run-down structure.

The building, which appears vacant, houses warehouses and the music studio of Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Michael Jackson. They will likely have to move.

The soup kitchen's move fits with the intention of Schmoke and his administration to create social services "campuses" that meet a variety of needs for the city's troubled residents. In addition to Our Daily Bread, the Preston Street site will house Christopher Place Employment Academy, which will move from 709 E. Eager St. The Eager Street site will be converted into the Catholic Charities Employment Center, which will house 30 men involved in temporary work.

Keeler, who joined Schmoke at a news conference yesterday, also noted that the church is not abandoning its mission to aid the poor at the Our Daily Bread site, next to the Basilica of the Assumption. That facility will house My Sister's Place, a shelter for about 100 women and children, which will move around the corner from 123 W. Mulberry St.

Gloria Matthews, 40, a former resident of East Biddle Street, recently moved because of the crime and poverty in the area. But Matthews, visiting her old block yesterday, thinks Our Daily Bread could enhance the area.

"It's a nice building," Matthews said. "And it might help the neighborhood."

Pub Date: 4/29/99

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