The Delray Beach City Commission voted Wednesday to end the Caring Kitchen's month-to-month lease next summer. They stipulated that the kitchen must stop serving in-house meals by October 31st of this year, although they can continue preparing food to be delivered elsewhere until August 1, 2018.
The Caring Kitchen has served meals from its current location on NW 8th Avenue for about 20 years. The food is offered for free to all that come and organizers estimate that they served 122,560 individual meals in 2016.
"We have outgrown our services," admits Ruth Mageria, who directs Christians Reaching Out Society (CROS) Ministries, the organization that runs the Caring Kitchen. "The building is not very big, so we outgrew our space."
Mageria says the Caring Kitchen has been working with the city to find a new location for about two years. They seriously considered the possibility historic rail depot, but that option fell through last spring.
The Caring Kitchen serves meals in-house 14 times per week: they provide breakfast and lunch every day and dinner 4 times a week. The small parking lot fills quickly, and people gather in front of the building before and after meals. Many of them eat there on a daily basis.
"I'm already stressed because I'm not working at the time so I'm stressing trying to pay my bills. So this place is a big help for me," said Milton Miller, 48. He's between construction jobs, he says, and he's been eating at the Caring Kitchen for about three years.
— Holly Pretsky (@hollypret) August 2, 2017
CROS Ministries is looking to partner with local churches while they transition the kitchen out of its current location. That may mean reducing the number of meals they're able to serve.
"We're moving. We know we need to move, and we understand the neighbors and the issues that the neighbors are bringing up," Mageria said. "But all we're asking is to give us time to be able to create some of those relationships."
She was hoping to be able to serve meals from the current space at least through the holidays.
The Caring Kitchen is located in a residential area near single-family homes. pic.twitter.com/xLgPO3PYsX
— Holly Pretsky (@hollypret) August 3, 2017
Neighbors have voiced concerns to the commission that the facility's size and location are inappropriate for the number of people it serves. Street parking, loitering, crime and trash are among community concerns.
"I'm just glad that we got some dates, so we can get this thing wrapped up finally," said Reggie Cox, president of the Northwest Neighborhood Alliance, after the commission reached a decision. "It's been 20 years."
During the commission meeting, Assistant Chief of the Delray Beach Police Department Javaro Sims said police frequently respond to the area. Issues include trespassing and drunken pedestrians.
Mayor Cary Glickstein acknowledged that many of the people who live near the soup kitchen are African American homeowners, and that the city has a history of prioritizing white neighborhoods.
"I can't in good conscience ask this neighborhood to do something that I myself would not be willing to do," he said.