Volunteers with Center Cross Ministries are taking their food service to the streets of Denison starting with Monday’s lunch service. For the past two months the charity has used the Denison Public Library to serve breakfast and lunch to those in need, but the library now needs the space for new programs starting next week.
Starting Monday, volunteers will serve lunches each weekday at the Grayson County Shelter, the public parking lot next to the Denison Hotel, and behind the Denison Albertsons location. Alan Bernard, an organizer with Center Cross, said he is grateful to library staff for their help over the last few months.
“The only way this could have been better was if there was a kitchen attached,” Bernard said. “We will miss people here. They’ve been really great people to work with.”
Changes in services, locations
With this change, the charity will no longer be able to serve breakfast and lunches will now be served in boxes for people to take back with them. With three locations and three serving times, Bernard said it may be difficult keeping food hot throughout the service.
“We don’t know how long they will stay hot, but that’s where we want to start,” Bernard said. “Regardless, the people in need are grateful to have what is provided.”
Bernard said he was unsure how many of his clients would still come out after the locations are changed. With the three locations, the ministry is able to reach throughout downtown Denison, but they no longer have the benefit of being indoors.
“Some of the people come to the library for a warm place to be and access to the computers,” he said.
Zoning debates and code enforcement
Center Cross Ministries moved to the library following several months of disputes with the city of Denison. The fight centered around a building on South Fannin Street that was used to serve meals from June until November.
The Denison Zoning Board of Adjustments denied a variance request to a requirement for 12 parking spaces needed for the operation under current city code, as the building only had one available parking space. Additional public parking was available about two blocks away.
Car dealer Eric Bryant stepped in to assist over the summer by offering to purchase a neighboring vacant lot that would then be developed into a parking lot. However, these efforts received push back from the city due to zoning concerns.
While the kitchen itself is zoned commercial, all neighboring lots are zoned residential. City officials feared rezoning the lot would be considered spot zoning and would go against the city’s land use plan.
Additionally, city building officials found several improvements that needed to be done to the site in order to bring it up to code for food service. These issues ranged from an aging electrical system that needed updates to roof repairs. Other concerns included that the building and operation was not inspected by the Grayson County Health Department.
Tensions continued to rise until city officials issued a letter to the Bernard in November and asked him to cease operations at the site. Following this, Bernard and city officials came to an agreement where Center Cross would have temporary access to the library’s community room for service. However, the library now needs this room for General Education Development programs offered through Grayson College.
More than just food
During Friday’s service, more than 50 people gathered at the library for a meal of burritos, taquitos and corn along with dessert. Bernard said he was surprised when about 10 children, who were out of school, came for lunch with their parents. Because of this, volunteers had to limit the lunch to one serving per visitor.
Despite only getting one serving, Sandra Freeman said she was thankful to get the opportunity to sit with friends each day over lunch and simply talk. This is what she will miss the most when the soup kitchen leaves the library, she said.
“It is heartbreaking because it’s not just about missing a hot meal,” she said. “It’s more about visiting and being in a warm place.”
Freeman said she has lived with family on Johnson Street for about three years, but it still doesn’t feel like home to her. Through the soup kitchen she said she was able to find a peaceful place to each her one hot meal each day.
“I don’t have to worry too much,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about where I am going to get a meal.”
Meanwhile Christopher Harrell said he dreams of the day he will be on the other side of the meal line and will be able to give back to his friends in need. Unlike some, he said he has a roof over his head, but living on disability is still difficult. While he receives food stamps, funds are often tight, he said.
Harrell said he is hopeful that an arrangement can be made between the soup kitchen and city that will leave all parties happy. This could include the city offering the use of one of its facilities.
“There is a solution, but you need to have everyone agree,” he said. “It seems that they could find one of their buildings that is not condemned and wouldn’t offend anyone.”