Order objects to move of charity

Nuns weren't asked about soup kitchen opening near school

May 07, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

The first objections to Associated Catholic Charities Inc.'s plan to move the Our Daily Bread soup kitchen from downtown to East Baltimore are surfacing from an unlikely source: the Oblate Sisters of Providence.

The Catholic order operates a high school and convent near the building in the 400 block of E. Preston St. that the Archdiocese of Baltimore is proposing for the new Our Daily Bread site.

School operators and the nuns object to not being told about the soup kitchen move and question whether the struggling East Baltimore neighborhood is the best place for an influx of downtown poor.

Being at odds with Catholic Charities is nothing new to the nuns. Fifteen years ago, the order objected to the diocese placing the Christopher Place job training center at 709 E. Eager St., near their facilities.

"History repeats itself," said Sister Reginald Gerdes, a member of the order who directs a senior center for Catholic Charities in Cherry Hill. "We did not intend for this to happen again. They should have spoken to the people in the neighborhood."

Tom Nealis, director for development at the order's St. Francis Academy at 501 E. Chase St., agrees.

"We want to have a say in our neighborhood," Nealis said. "We're all for serving the homeless, but we want to make sure we're included in anything in our neighborhood, even if IBM was moving in."

Last week, diocesan and downtown business leaders announced that the city's most visible soup kitchen will move from its site next to the Basilica of the Assumption on Cathedral Street to East Baltimore. The $10 million plan includes expanding the soup kitchen and consolidating it with Christopher Place and adding a new employment center.

The soup kitchen, which feeds lunch to up to 900 of Baltimore's poor each day, has been long criticized by downtown business owners for drawing aggressive panhandlers and loiterers to the area.

Advocates for the poor have criticized the symbolism of the move, blaming business owners for trying to sweep the poor out of site.

The Preston Street site, which stretches to East Biddle Street next to Interstate 83, was purchased and donated to the diocese by Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos.

Sister Gwynette Proctor, who operates Our Daily Bread and Christopher Place, said she has begun discussions with the nuns and other neighborhood groups to address their concerns.

Although Proctor refrains from calling the concerns of the fellow Christian group an instance of the "not in my back yard" syndrome that often surfaces with unwanted projects, she fears stereotypes of the poor might be playing a role.

"If you believe the stereotypes about the people we serve, one might believe they're considered troubled," Proctor said. "I don't share that stereotype."

"Our desire is to bring hope to the neighborhood, not to bring burdensome individuals," Proctor said.

Nealis backs away from opposing the plan outright. But he contends that the poor who visit Our Daily Bread could be better served downtown.

"You are cutting off the homeless from the west side," Nealis said. "The homeless may not be served properly in this location."

Gerdes has vowed to fight to make sure the order's voice is heard.

"We have been in that neighborhood for 100 years," she said.

During the announcement of the move, diocese officials said they anticipated cynicism. Proctor said yesterday she is ready to meet with everyone affected.

"This is just the beginning of the process," she said. "Neither group seemed to be concerned about expanding Christopher Place."

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