Hundreds of needy families hang in the balance after an outcry over a food pantry. It's become one of the premier pantries in Hartford, but its future is in question because neighbors are complaining that there is too much traffic in the area.
The Grace Seventh Day Adventist Church on Prospect Street opens its doors once a week for two to three hours to give free food away to families in need.
The turnouts are high, and the traffic it brings doesn't sit well with some neighbors.
Noel McGregor has been running the food pantry for the past six years and said in the last year, he's seen the turnout spike. Once a week, about 200 families receive food at that location.
"We didn't just pack food and say, 'Here, take this,'" he said. "We gave them a choice. Take what you want, what you need and how much you need for your family."
And that's what is leading to lines that extend out the door.
"It stretches out of the driveway and down the street a little bit," he said.
Because of that, he has been called to the mat on zoning issues. The West End Civic Association has confirmed that neighbors in the area are complaining about the traffic and said lines are too long, making street parking difficult.
"It's just for two hours a day," McGregor said.
The West End Civic Association officials said they just want to ensure the residential codes are enforced.
"We're supporters of food pantries and we think they're necessary and a good cause, but we would like to see the residential zoning remain," said Gail Prez, who is the president of the West End Civic Association.
McGregor said the traffic during the weekly food handouts doesn't even come close to the traffic turnout for weekend services.
"My feeling is in this neighborhood, there's a lot of people who don't believe the poor should come to this neighborhood to receive help," McGregor said.
On Thursday, the West End Civic Association sat down with church officials and the city's licensing and inspections department.
Both sides said they will work together, maybe even find another location.
The church officials said the fact remains that there is a strong need for the pantry in the community. Now its in the hands of licensing and inspections.
The licensing and inspection department plans to review zoning regulations and go from there.
As for the church and the neighborhood association, they plan to have separate meeting hoping to come to an agreement.
Residents in the area are split.
"Move it maybe? Find somewhere else to put it," Tim Lafleuer said. "Compromise with the neighbors."
Aleixa Diaz disagrees.
"I think they should probably give it a shot," she said. "Leave it open. It's for a good cause."
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