Students still feeding homeless

No city license, no Loyola sponsorship, but charity goes on

Baltimore & Region


Just as they have for more than a decade, students from Loyola College convened last night on a downtown gathering spot for the homeless - outside St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, an area dubbed "Bum City" by the regulars, to deliver food to some of the city's neediest.

There was nothing out of the ordinary about their work, as they lugged a cooler filled with turkey-and-cheese sandwiches, two containers of hot chocolate and toiletries. But this time, the students' charity work was illegal, according to the city Health Department, which ordered the students to get a license to distribute the food because they didn't have running water on site. They have yet to get a license.

Still, the students were undeterred.

"It wasn't about, `We're not gonna let the city stop us,'" said sophomore Ashley Biggs, 18. "It was more about, `There's still people that need to be fed.'"

On Nov. 14, the students from the college's Center for Values and Service, which operates the Care-a-Van program, were notified by a Health Department representative that they needed to have running hot and cold water for volunteers who were serving food to wash their hands. The school is working on getting a license, and Loyola officials have suspended the program. That means the money supplied by the school, with which the students bought the food and toiletries and the van used to deliver the items, are no longer at their disposal.

"We've kicked in money; our parents have kicked in money," Biggs said. "We were just not about to give up and say, `Go hungry,' until we have a license to give somebody something to eat. If we have food, we're going to feed them. If city officials were hungry and cold, I'm sure they wouldn't want someone to have to have a license to give them something to eat. It's just stupid. That's what it is."

City officials could not be reached for comment last night.

The city has been under greater scrutiny regarding homeless policies after two homeless men died Dec. 3 as they slept on a downtown street corner in sub-freezing weather. Although the state medical examiner has yet to rule on the official cause of death, it is suspected that they died of hypothermia.

For the dozen or so men who downed hot chocolate in last night's cold, a head shake or chuckle was all they could manage for reactions to the regulation.

"Some care," said Cornell McColley, 39, a native of Kingston, Jamaica, who has been living on Baltimore's streets for the past 11 months. "But some don't."

Gretchen Bell, 21, a Loyola junior from Massachusetts, said that the Health Department official who approached the group last month was sympathetic to their cause. Bell said the suspension of the program has caused the students to cut back on the number of days they distribute food, from twice weekly to once.

"It's not a health issue," Bell said. "If they're picking stuff out of a trash can, they're going to get sick. We're making sandwiches with gloves on."

Bell said she and the other students have also established a rapport with a lot of the people they serve, many of whom are mentally ill and refuse to go to shelters.

"It's not just about giving them the sandwich," Bell said. "They want someone to talk to for a half-hour."

The men heaped praise on the volunteers and thanked them.


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