UPDATE: Food pantry fee waiver heads to San Jose City Council

By Lorraine Gabbert, Spotlight on San Jose

February 2, 2022

Some San Jose food pantries could have their fees waived thanks to a proposal presented to the city council.

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The city’s rules and open government committee voted on Wednesday to waive special use permit fees or finding funds to cover the costs of Lighthouse Ministries and other pandemic-related pantries. The full city council will consider it later this year.

Lighthouse Ministries Food Pantry learned last month it needed a special use permit costing up to $15,500 continue to operate. This stems from a complaint filed with the city in January citing impacts to traffic and pedestrians, which resulted in the pantry being temporarily closed.

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The city allowed it to reopen, but informed the association that it did not comply with zoning rules. This requires an expensive special use permit. The high cost stems from the need for environmental review and planning, public notification and outreach, and a public hearing, all of which require staff. The association could not pay the fees.

Chris Burton, director of planning, construction and code enforcement, said the department doesn’t want to impact pantry operations.

“We know this is an important service they provide to the community,” Burton said, adding that his department works to bring businesses into compliance, not just shut them down.

Therefore, the deadline for Lighthouse to apply for a special use permit will be pushed back until a program can be put in place that provides cost offsets or waivers for food distribution and other organizations. of social services. That will require going through a budget process, Burton said.

“The need is great and will likely continue well beyond the end of the emergency order,” he said. “So we think it’s appropriate to…deal with this more holistically.”

After San Josè Spotlight helped publicize its plight, the Pantry’s GoFundMe account exceeded the amount needed overnight. If the proposal is approved by the full council, Lighthouse could redirect those funds to improving the pantry, expanding its reach, paying for parking signs and adding another location.

The food pantry, located at E. Julian and 17th streets, feeds more than 1,000 people a day, six days a week. From a farmer’s market-style food distribution stand, volunteers deliver eggs, milk, bread, fresh fruit and vegetables to families, seniors, people with disabilities and the homeless in need . Food is also being distributed to nearby homeless camps.

Urgent need

Pastor Ralph Olmos, who runs the pantry, said he didn’t initially realize how great the need was. He said his wife told him he couldn’t go back after helping so many people.

Olmos said he felt ecstatic and grateful after the unanimous vote and appreciated the support from the community.

“It feels good to know that we’re doing something that impacts our city for the (better),” he said. “I hope Lighthouse will be more than a food pantry on 17th Street, but a beacon of hope with many more locations to come.”

Liccardo, who proposed the fee waiver with council member Raul Peralez, did not speak at the meeting. He said in a statement that the city must uplift residents doing critical work during the pandemic.

“I deeply appreciate the work Pastor Olmos and Lighthouse Ministries are doing to feed our most vulnerable neighbors and families,” he said.

A resident who called into the meeting as “S” said the reason the pantry exists was because there was an urgent need. She said it’s not just the people picking up the food who are being fed, but also their families.

“I am grateful to have Lighthouse in an area where we need service,” she said. “They exist because the city, county, and other groups just can’t provide the same services in the same areas. We need more lights. We need more beacons.”

The new proposal includes a commitment from Lighthouse Ministries to continue working with neighbors and the city to address traffic and pedestrian issues.

While food insecurity has increased dramatically during the pandemic, CalFresh and local nonprofits have stepped up their services to meet this need. The Second Harvest Food Bank has seen the number of people it serves in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties double during the pandemic, from 250,000 to 500,000. Loaves & Fishes Family Kitchen has seen its number triple to reach 1.5 million people per year.

Peralez, who noted that it will take several months for the proposal to reach the full city council, said the pandemic is a challenge for many families, especially when it comes to food insecurity. He told San José Spotlight he was happy with the vote.

“I think my colleagues also understand the importance,” he said, adding that he appreciates staff thinking creatively about not only how to help Lighthouse Ministries, but also other care. -to eat.

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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