MYRTLE BEACH — The assistant director of the Community Kitchen of Myrtle Beach said he has no plans for the organization to partner with the city’s homelessness coalition, New Directions, saying the kitchen’s mission is to feed the hungry, not only the homeless.
New Directions, formed this spring, is the consolidation of organizations that work with the area’s needy people.
The Center for Women and Children, Street Reach Ministries and Life Line, the domestic violence agency that replaced Citizens Against Spouse Abuse, have combined resources to form one operating board that will work under one 501c3. New Directions was created at the request of City Council.
Community Kitchen requested $30,000 from the city’s 2013-2014 fiscal year budget for operational costs, according to a request letter submitted to the city in January. The kitchen reported serving 102,000 meals in 2012.
City Council members in April said they would not fund any agency that helps the needy that chose not to work with New Directions, which wants Community Kitchen charge for its meals and track who is served. The council also denied a $50,000 funding request of Myrtle Beach Haven because it has chosen not to work with New Directions.
The City Council appropriated $121,500 for New Directions in the 2013-2014 fiscal year budget that was approved in May.
Councilwoman Susan Grissom Means, who voiced concerns about denying funding to organizations that help the needy during the budget process, asked that the council again consider funding the kitchen. The council tabled the motion on Tuesday, which could return to the next council meeting’s agenda on Aug. 27.
City manager Tom Leath recommended that if council members chose to give the kitchen any money, they do so with the stipulation that the Community Kitchen use CharityTracker to account for the people who receive meals as well as impose a small charge – which could be anywhere from 75 cents to $3 – for the food.
The city, through New Directions, has adopted the philosophy of the book “Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It)” by Robert Lupton. The city invited Lupton to speak last summer where said the instinct to help is a good one, but that it must not rob a person of dignity or create dependency.
“We need to get away from giving things to people,” Leath said Tuesday. “Everyone should have the self-worth of buying something.”
Council members were divided on the best way to handle organizations that choose not to work with New Directions, with Mayor John Rhodes saying he didn’t want to stray from the approach the council agreed upon when the consolidation occurred.
“If we give in and fund them [without stipulations] we might as well throw the whole thing out the window,” Mayor John Rhodes said Tuesday during a council workshop. “We have got to get a grip on the homeless situation in this city. That is a fact. I’m going to stand firm on this.”
But Means said she wasn’t comfortable granting the money with strings attached.
“If we want to help them, let’s help them,” she said. “Don’t blackmail them. That’s what we’re doing.”
For two years, the city has worked to consolidate services offered to the homeless and needy in the attempt to cut duplication of services and save money.
But Community Kitchen Assistant Director Peter Casamento, who will take over as director of the organization Oct. 1, said the group’s focus is not on helping the homeless.
“The issue is this: The Community Kitchen wants to feed the hungry, not just the homeless,” Casamento said. “We don’t care if they’re homeless or if they’re a business man who’s struggling to pay his bills. Whoever comes through there get’s a meal.”
Casamento said they don’t turn away anyone who goes to the kitchen for a meal, and sometimes those people are people who work but have to use all of their money for bills.
That scenario was something Councilman Mike Lowder said changed his view on denying funding to Community Kitchen.
“There are a lot of hard-working people out there who don’t have a dollar to pay for a meal,” he said.
The United Way of Horry County gave the Community Kitchen $18,200 this year, said the group’s president, Olivia Garren. She said the United Way awards money to nonprofits that provide a service that is needed in the county.
Those services usually fall in one of four areas for Horry County: success for youth and children; strong, safe and healthy families; promoting self-sufficiency; and basic needs and safety net.
Garren said she read “Toxic Charity” and the United Way has encouraged all area nonprofits to consider the points made in the book, saying she sees value in the practices but at this point the board has not made any changes to the way it awards funding.
The council delayed taking a vote on the motion so that New Directions could meet with representatives from the Community Kitchen and reach an agreement.
Mary Jeffcoat, who facilitated meetings among service providers, local governments, churches and others to create New Directions and advises the group, said she hopes the Community Kitchen will choose to become a participating agency, while urging council not to grant any funding if it doesn’t.
“If you fund Community Kitchen with no strings attached it will sabotage everything New Directions is doing and everything the city is doing,” she said.
Contact MAYA T. PRABHU at 444-1722 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_MPrabhu.