Of the hundreds of words written by the editorial board in its Sunday piece, “DFA issues challenge: Let’s find a solution,” thirteen words tell the story:

“City leaders contend no zoning regulation exists that would allow such an operation.”

Amid the endless talk about meetings, task forces, committees, and “comprehensive strategies,” the stubborn fact remains that the City of Florence doesn’t believe Room at the Table may exist within its boundaries.

What is this “operation,” this Room at the Table? Is it a tattoo parlor, or perhaps a payday lender? No, those businesses are located across the street from Room at the Table’s proposed location.

Rather, in our increasingly coarse and cynical culture, Room at the Table’s mission stands out as refreshingly—indeed, shockingly—pure and earnest: to feed and fellowship with people between 5 and 7 PM each evening. It does so without taking a dime of taxpayer money or government assistance, without preaching or proselytizing, without regard to money, power, status, class or influence. It is grace in action, with no strings attached.

That’s it. That’s the “operation” city leaders contend cannot exist in Florence—a position they are prepared to spend thousands of taxpayer dollars defending.

Room at the Table has lost count of the number of meetings and discussions it has attended with city leaders over the last several months. Any suggestion that Room at the Table hasn’t shown a “willingness” to discuss “viable options” is flatly untrue. In fact, Room at the Table chose its proposed location in Seven Points to placate those same city leaders who balked at the prospect of a downtown locale.

On the other hand, the only “option” the City has proposed would require Room at the Table to fundamentally alter the nature of its existence as a purely private, non-sectarian charity. Time and again, the City has tried to pressure Room at the Table to operate as an arm of the Salvation Army. But the Salvation Army and Room at the Table are different operations, with different objectives, structures, affiliations and funding sources. It is unconscionable—not to mention unconstitutional—to force a charity to change its very character, and Room at the Table won’t do it.

There is an old parable, told by Jewish, Christian, and other religious traditions the world over. It tells of two banquets, one representing “hell” and the other “heaven.” In hell, the banquet guests are served the finest cuisine imaginable, but must eat with long-handled forks that won’t allow them to reach the food into their mouths. There is much complaining, wailing and gnashing of teeth, and no one is sated. In heaven, it is the exact same scenario—the delicious food, the long-handled forks—except the guests have learned to feed one another.

It is a parable about the difference between problem-staters – with their endless meetings, their hand-wringing and chin-stroking and navel-gazing – and problem-solvers, who see another human with a need and meet it, simply, directly and joyfully.

Feeding people shouldn’t be this hard.

Nathan Ryan

One of the Attorneys for Room at the Table

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