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Food Pantry at Risk of Closure?

Posted by admin On May 4th

Fort Myers food pantry at risk of closure over permits


• What: Fort Myers Planning Board Meeting
• When: 1 p.m today
• Where: Council Chambers, Oscar M. Corbin Jr. City Hall, 2200 Second St., Fort Myers

 A disgruntled neighbor of one of the most popular food pantries in Fort Myers wants it shut down.  Wilheim Verhoven has complained about St. Vincent de Paul’s food pantry for over a year, citing excessive noise, visual blight, declining property value, and inappropriate, anti-social and unsanitary behavior of some of the clients. 

The food pantry, which is run out of a small church, provides more than 1 million pounds of food annually to those in need.  Three mornings a week, a line of clients wrap around the church waiting to get bags of groceries or other services they may need such as money for utilities.

Verhoven and his attorney, William Uhle, will present their concerns at a Fort Myers Planning Board meeting at City Hall today.  “They should move to a more appropriate location,” he said of the pantry.

The pantry has operated at 2073 Lafayette St. for more than 4 years and is on commercially zoned land. 

Al Brislain, executive director of The Harry Chapin Food Bank, which provides the bulk of the food distributed by St. Vincent’s de Paul, understands why Verhoven might be upset.  “‘Not in my backyard’ is a real common problem that all social services have to deal with,” he said. “However, our concern is that thousands of people get food at Vincent de Paul, and if they shut down, I don’t know of any pantry in the area that has the capacity to serve those kinds of numbers.”

Although Verhoven has complained dozens of times about the food pantry, he is at a disadvantage, said Lynee Rodriguez, principal planner for Fort Myers. She will attend today’s meeting.  “The main problem with his complaint is that unfortunately he bought a home zoned commercial general,” she said. “There can be any kind of commercial properties around him.”

But Verhoven’s complaints flagged the problem that the food pantry did not have a conditional use permit.

The application costs $3,000, which amounts to two weeks of feeding the hungry, said Bernie Fettkether, president of St. Vincent de Paul, who oversees more than 100 volunteers.

“It’s very sad they had to pay fees,” Rodriguez said. “But it doesn’t matter if you are a nonprofit, you still have to pay the fees. I wish they could have kept the money for food distribution.”

The church also has to follow code enforcement issues such as establishing handicapped parking and fixing its Dumpster, she said.

The planning board will make a recommendation about the food pantry’s future, and then the board of adjustment will make a final ruling in a few months.

St. Vincent’s de Paul can continue to operate until a final decision has been made.

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