Making soup kitchen a better neighbor

Our Daily Bread: Needs of Johnston Square area must be considered before center is relocated.

May 22, 1999

THE ARCHDIOCESE of Baltimore said it wanted six months to gauge reaction to its plans to move Our Daily Bread from downtown to an East Baltimore neighborhood. It took only weeks for feedback to be fairly evident.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke likes the proposal.

The business community, whose complaints about the soup kitchen's impact on downtown initiated the move, loves it.

Advocates for the homeless, including the Center for Poverty Solutions, welcome it, too. The $20 million program would add job-skills training to hunger services while expanding a shelter for women and children at the current Our Daily Bread building across from the Enoch Pratt Free Library on Cathedral Street.

The only parties upset thus far are in the Johnston Square area, destined to receive Our Daily Bread, and a Roman Catholic school there, St. Frances Academy.

The principal and parents at St. Frances, the nation's oldest Catholic high school with African-American roots, and several others in the community are justifiably upset that they were excluded from months of planning to relocate Our Daily Bread.

A Catholic Charities' committee headed by former T. Rowe Price executive George Collins was responsible for crafting a complex compromise with multiple objectives, including moving Our Daily Bread from the commercial corridor; not relocating it too far from the 1,000 people it serves daily; offering services beyond a midday meal; and finding a location that volunteers wouldn't fear.

It's understandable if committee members felt that finding a neighborhood to embrace Maryland's largest soup kitchen was one challenge too many. But now that Orioles' principal owner Peter G. Angelos has taken an option for a building off Interstate 83 for the facility, the archdiocese and city government must actively court the neighborhood and school.

The protesters say this is not another example of not-in-my-backyard sentiment. "It's NIMBYA -- not in my back yard again," says one, referring to the fact that the neighborhood sits in the shadow of the fortress-like state penitentiary and other detention facilities.

Steps can be taken to ease opposition -- from limiting the impact of soup kitchen foot traffic to addressing recreation and day-care needs of a neighborhood pocked by boarded-up rowhouses, trash-strewn streets and alleys and the depressing remnants of a playground.

Cardinal William H. Keeler last month aptly described the plan to relocate Our Daily Bread as a "win-win." A win-win-win would be better.

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