Feeding Homeless Apparently Illegal in Raleigh, NC

Maggie, Hugh, and our partnering church speak with an officer.

Maggie, Sarah, our church partner, and I speak with an officer.

What Happened

On the morning of Saturday, August, 24, Love Wins showed up at Moore Square at 9:00 a.m., just like we have done virtually every Saturday and Sunday for the last six years. We provide, without cost or obligation, hot coffee and a breakfast sandwich to anyone who wants one. We keep this promise to our community in cooperation with five different, large suburban churches that help us with manpower and funding.

On that morning three officers from Raleigh Police Department prevented us from doing our work, for the first time ever. An officer said, quite bluntly, that if we attempted to distribute food, we would be arrested.

"They will arrest me if I give you a biscuit."

Me addressing the crowd. “They will arrest me if I give you a biscuit.”

Our partnering church brought 100 sausage biscuits and large amounts of coffee. We asked the officers for permission to disperse the biscuits to the over 70 people who had lined up, waiting to eat. They said no. I had to face those who were waiting and tell them that I could not feed them, or I would be arrested.

In the past, we have had a good working relationship with the Raleigh Police Department. We knew that we could not use the park itself, as doing so required a permit, but that it was acceptable to set up on the sidewalk, as long as we did not block the sidewalk and cleaned up after ourselves. We have operated, unmolested, under this assumption for the last six years.

By the way, each permit to use the park costs $800. Yes, eight hundred dollars. That would cost us $1,600 every weekend, and the officer we spoke to said the City likely wouldn’t approve it anyway.

No representative from the Raleigh Police Department was willing to tell us which ordinance we broke, or why, after six years and countless friendly and cooperative encounters with the Department, they are now preventing us from feeding hungry people.

When I asked the officer why, he said that he was not going to debate me. “I am just telling you what is. Now you pass out that food, you will go to jail.”

What We Will Do

Simple: we will feed people. I am, after all (however imperfectly), a follower of Jesus, who said himself that when we ignore hungry people, we ignore him.

We knew that with the upcoming revitalization of Moore Square, we would have to find alternative arrangements. We have been working to that end, but as the revitalization is currently unfunded, and has no start date, we felt we had some time.

What We Won’t Do

We appreciate all the ways you have written in to suggest that we could subvert the system, but to do that only admits to the City of Raleigh that its argument is legitimate. We maintain that we have done nothing wrong.

We feed people and have been doing so, and much more, for six years. On the weekends people have no where else to go other than the park because Wake County and/or the City of Raleigh offers no soup kitchens or other options on the weekends. None. There is no “official” place you can get a meal if you are homeless or at-risk of homelessness. You are left to your wits, and for the last six years, you could get a cup of hot coffee and a hot breakfast sandwich from us – because you could not get one from any tax funded location.

We have not hidden. Our work of bringing biscuits to the park has been mentioned in multiple full-page articles in the local paper over the years. We have had countless routine conversations with the police while doing this alleged illegal activity. We do not hide. And while, according to the City of Raleigh, it might be illegal to feed hungry people, it is most assuredly the right thing to do.

What You Can Do

Several things. While it was Raleigh Police Department that threw us out of the park and threatened to arrest us, we realize they are acting under orders. Ultimately, they serve the interests of the Mayor and the City Council. In the words of the officer in charge today, “You need to take it up with the City Council.”

And if history has taught us anything, it is, as Frederick Douglas said, that “power concedes nothing without demand.”

1. Below are the email addresses and phone numbers of the Mayor and of the City Council members. We encourage you to email them and ask A) why organizations, such as Love Wins Ministries, are being prevented from feeding people in the park, when the City of Raleigh has no means of or plans to feed them and B) encourage them to allow said feeding to continue. continue to call and voice your concern. We spoke with the Mayor yesterday, and while she did say that no one will be arrested for feeding hungry people in the park, it’s important to continue to make your voice heard. The status quo is not acceptable.

Keeping in mind that we win over no one with anger or rudeness. Anger does not cast out fear – only love can do that.

* Out of town folks, call any and all of the City Council members.

* Raleigh residents, call the City Council member representing your district. You can find your district by entering your address here.

City Council At Large

Mary-Ann Baldwin - Email - 919-996-3050

City Council At Large/Mayor Pro Tem

Russ Stephenson - Email - 919-996-3050

District A

Randall Stagner - Email - 919-996-3050

District B

John Odom - Email - 919-996-3050

District C

Eugene Weeks - Email - 919-996-3050

District D

Thomas Crowder - Email - 919-996-3050

District E

Bonner Gaylord - Email - 919-996-3050


Nancy McFarlane - Email - 919-996-3050

2. Post the link to this post on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit or any other social media outlets you have access to. Again, we have done nothing wrong, and have no desire to hide.

3. If you have contacts with people of influence (media, celebrities, etc.), please pass this story along to them or give them my email address – hugh@lovewins.info.

4. Stay up do date. The most current information will be on our Facebook page, which you can like to receive those updates automatically.

5. Pray for our friends who are hungry, and now have nowhere to eat. And pray for us, so that we do not lose our tempers and along with it, our soul. And pray for the officers and people in power, who are working against our goals.

6. If you’re local, attend the public City Council meeting that will take place soon to address the issue.

Pray for all of us, in fact, because we all need it, and our liberation is bound up in each other.

Inquiring minds want to know why it's not okay to treat people like people.

Inquiring minds want to know why it’s not okay to treat people like people.

What’s Happening Now 

In the last 48 hours our blog post about the incident has gone viral—if you count 250,000 views as such. The comments pour in faster than we can moderate them. The pressure created by concerned readers has reached the offices of Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane and the City Council.

I spoke with Mayor McFarlane yesterday afternoon. She said that she wasn’t aware of the Raleigh Police Department’s decision to arrest people sharing food. She confirmed that no one would be arrested for sharing food at Moore Square. I also had a conversation with Mayor Pro Tem Russ Stephenson, who assured me that pending further communication, the City would maintain the status quo of allowing us to serve food on the sidewalk immediately outside the park.

These are positive first steps as we forward with the City of Raleigh.

I want to be clear that Love Wins is not satisfied with the status quo. We should not need to pay $800 to feed hungry people in a park that belongs to everyone. A society is judged not by how it treats its most wealthy citizens, but by how it treats its most vulnerable.

Learn More:

- Frequently Asked Questions About The Moore Square Incident

- Sign up for the Love Wins newsletter.


Hugh Hollowell

About Hugh Hollowell

Hugh Hollowell is a minister in the Mennonite Church USA and based in Raleigh, N.C. He is the founder and director of Love Wins Ministries, which tackles the problems of homelessness by focusing on relationships, not outcomes. He likes peanut M&Ms.
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1,096 Responses to Feeding Homeless Apparently Illegal in Raleigh, NC

  1. I like what you are doing and hope you succeed! Such a strange world. In my town the police gives away free hot dogs on a regular basis! Anyway I just wanted to mention to u that it would be nice if you had a vegetarian or maybe turkey option option since a lot of people don’t eat pork.

  2. Michael Cox says:

    My prayers are with you ,this is so wrong, if one of those cops needed food what would he do. Just like the scriptures says when you have fed or clothe you have done this as if you were doing it do Jesus himself. Christians are being pressured in all ways to stop what we are doing or saying. IT’s TIME TO GO HOME !!!

  3. I emailed everyone on that list. Even up here in the middle of Alaska, I am concerned with how this was handled. And…I shared it with my 800+ Facebook friends.
    Good luck,
    Georganne, human.

  4. Maria says:

    This is so wrong – especially when it is a TRUE act of LOVE! I will pray that this is restored and that the State of NC is needed of many prayers. Everyday people are loosing too much and to have one small meal may be all they get for days!

    Godbless this mission and I hope we can find a way to beat this block!

  5. fjjb says:

    churches are separated from state by our constitutional laws..=== hello hello…
    talk to fast food places tat will allow a time,place to set up a drive for the hungry.at the senior places, the fire dept..at churches.
    lets all smell the coffee together as we stroll along park avenue..

  6. Sharon Pruett says:

    This is the most atrocious thing I’ve heard recently. There is a LAW against feeding people??? All of a sudden? When you’ve been doing it weekly for 6 years?? I guess they want to put them in “internment camps” like South Carolina now. This is evil in its purest form….to deny food to hungry people…for WHAT reason. The food was there, the people were there….but you were not allowed to give it to them??? WHAT is this world coming to? I am overwhelmingly sad and ashamed of the human race at this point!

  7. Jamal Parker says:

    Let me start by saying to the followers of christ! The lord will not put more than you handle on your back! If the cops wanted to arrest you for feeding the homeless, they would be in violation of their oath to keep the peace! They wanted to start an uproar because they know they could not have stopped you from feeding those people & still had their jobs in the morning so they used scare tactics! The police was clearly the ones starting a disturbance with the nonsense of stopping those who are literally trying to minister to the poor and unfortunate. Ministries don’t always come from the poolpit, & Jehovahs witnesses shouldn’t be the only religion to minister to the public. I’d like to say thank you to those who we’re trying to help these unfortunate people , too many times I’ve seen society leaders & elite turn their noses up to the poor & unfortunate but as soon as someone from their family is hurt or a misfortune happen “WE THE PEOPLE” have to sit & listen to their cry’s & constantly be shown the incident all over the news or even worse bail their crooked butts out of a dilema! (Corporate bailouts, higher taxes for wars that have nothing to do with AMERICA) If it we’re me I would have still fed those people in a public place! Public property speaks for it’s self! IT’S PUBLIC PROPERTY! It’s mighty strange their police chief didn’t chew them a new …hole for pulling a stunt like that! But just wait GOD don’t ugly & he’s not too crazy about pretty either! Those cops will have to answer to GOD for sure, I would like to see them arrest GOD for punishing them! Oh I forgot the police don’t believe there is a GOD existing in this world!

  8. Karen Bowman says:

    When you do this because of religious belief, they are violating your religious freedom rights. We had this when we organized PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter) for overnight shelter in the winter. We wrote letters pointing this out to our mayors and it cleared it up on that level. They may have a problem with location. We worked hard to make sure the fears of our community were respected so that we could continue serving our Lord in this way. God’s blessing on you.

  9. Christopher Buckley says:

    Probably people who live in and business owners complaining of disorderly conduct and of the mess, which was was likely left behind. Sure the homeless should be fed but if you were a business owner how would you like the homeless hanging out in front or behind your place of business, urinating, defecating, passing out drunk, fights and other shenanigans often associated with the homeless. The cops are probably sick of dealing with the nuisance which likely remains long after they are fed. If you want to feed them feed them on church property, why “take the show on the road”?

  10. Betty Neal says:

    It seems that in order to exercise our freedom of speech or religion, we have to be arrested. It then begs the question, what freedoms are our soldiers defending? Or are they just defending those in power so they can act as they will without any concern for the folks they supposedly serve?

  11. Meredith Hunt says:

    A simple google map check shows at least four churches nearby Moore Park. Where are the churches? Why not use church space?

  12. Lorie says:

    The police officer was just doing his job, if there is such an ordinance, don’t be mad at him. His job is to uphold the law, so lets see what can be done to change the law.

  13. Stacey says:

    I think it is utterly ridiculous that feeding the homeless is a against the law. What other of our civil liberties will be taken away under what guise. American is slowly becoming a third world country. Pray for us. No longer GOD Driven.

  14. Doug Koenigsberg says:

    I commend the city in this action. Church folk need to be told that showing up one or two days a week with food only makes the folks doing the “feeding” feel good. Let them show up with a bus and take the homeless to their church for some real food and fellowship. And maybe a shower and a chance to do some laundry. You know, to really, really be Christlike. The homeless are not like a flock of pigeons to be fed for amusement, without regard for the real effects of such an effort. Love didn’t win here, because real love isn’t about winning.

  15. Diana Gardner says:

    Are we not called as Christians to reach out and help the homeless, hungry and those in need. It is pretty sad when people are being arrested for doing just that. Following what Scripture in the Bible tell us to do. Doing what GOD has instructed us to do.

  16. Pingback: Church group threatened with arrest for feeding homeless without permit

  17. DTR resident says:

    Why can’t you move it to your property at love wins ~ 10 blocks away?

  18. Pingback: Homeless Crime Committed by Charities - Ivie Law Firm

  19. Celia Sloan says:

    My prayers are with you and the hungry people you feed. This should not happen in America!

  20. Laury Dyson says:

    I don’t understand why your soup kitchens are closed on the weekend?..you are not allowed to use their property on the weekend to pass out food?what law closes the soup kitchens and halfway houses on the weekend?..

  21. Steve says:

    I posted this in the Raleigh Facebook page under recommenndations, also as a comment to an article of what a great place Raleigh is. You can embarrass the heck out of the city by finding creative ways to post this on their own Facebook page. They’ll probably delete them, but not before people see them, and you can always repost, LOL.

  22. megan sublett says:


  23. brother dave says:

    Bring donuts for the cops…….win/win lol

  24. Nancy Alborell says:

    I’m not sure why the use of a public sidewalk would be illegal. Isn’t this a violation of the Declaration of Independence?

  25. Vincentjohn says:

    Why didn’t anyone call a lawyer at the spot to check it out. If there isn’t any law that say you may not feed homeless people then the police could facing a big problem by bringing them to court for attempting an innesend arrest.

    The police do not know the law. They are just execute them. And most likely the police do not know all the laws so they are making their own law.

    Do not use only your mobile to make videos but use your knowledge to make sure this will not happen again. Because you have rights and you may stand for your rights.

  26. Lee Parrish says:

    I cried when I read this post. Oh what has this world come to? Can’t feed the poor?
    Who made this decision? Do they go hungry? I think NOT. I am telling Glenn, and many others.
    How about our Governor? Does he know? If not he should. Fix this problem, now. Feed the people

  27. chuck says:

    The person that made that law should ask themselves where would I get my next meal if I lost everything I had?

  28. Joanie says:

    I simply don’t understand. Under what circumstances, if any, is feeding the hungry legal?

  29. Randee Huber says:

    Have you contacted the ACLU? Seems like they could at least find out what ordinance is being disobeyed (if any), and what it is you would actually be arrested for. If there is nothing on the books that they can use to charge you, then they can’t prosecute you.

  30. Mary Gowland says:

    There is a big church downtown on Hillsbourgh I think it is The Church of the Good Shepherd. They have a soup kitchen at 11am everyday. You might contact them to see about setting up in front of their place to do the weekend giving…

  31. Jennifer Roldan says:

    Wouldn’t make better sent to used of the church halls to do this, much like how a soup kitchen runs.

  32. Shannon says:

    As I sit here and read some of these comments I think You must not have ever been homeless or low on money or without a job.. you sit here and type you messages about being harassed or asked for money or they should have picked up their trash. Climb down off your high horse. I hope that you never have to experience what they go through day in and day out. Do you think they like being hungry or homeless? Worrying about petty things they do, Please find a legit argument like they attack people or they walk up to you and cuss you, you all should be ashamed of yourself…….Adults pay attention, do you want to know why there is BULLYING in schools, they learn it from their PARENTS, they see you make fun, talk down, or turn your nose up to people in need…STOP IT! I will pray for your souls

  33. Julie Stoneham says:

    I worked with the homeless professionally in Raleigh for 2 years to help them get their needs met. Many of them are grateful and thankful for anything anyone does to help them, even a pair of sox. Many of them I have seen get employment, a place to live, or the disability they so need to survive due to mental or physical illness. But there are so many that still need our help. Taking them out of Moore square might seem like a good solution to make the park better, however, they still need a place to go, as we all do. The shelters do all they can to help them, if they are willing to help themselves. But it is a process that takes time. So what you do for them and other religious and secular groups is so important to make a difference in the lives of people who are just that, people, just happen to be homeless. I wish others could walk a day in their shoes. Today was a bad way to handle the situation. It caused hurt to your ministry and the homeless waiting. Another way for them to feel let down in life, and I applaud you willingness and tenacity to continue to help them. I am with you in prayer.

  34. Barbara says:

    This is a sad time. It makes me ashamed to be from North Carolina when we are not allowed to feed someone that is hungry. I can not imagine looking at a child that is hungry – who knows I have food, and tell him ‘no’. It breaks my heart.

  35. johnk says:

    This is as bad as the police telling a 10 year old they can’t sell lemon-aid and close her down. The church is giving food away free. As far as I am concerned no laws have been broken. Call it a picnic. Pathetic

  36. Agnes J. Frye says:

    I commend you for your following the commandment of Jesus to “love your neighbor as yourself.” It is difficult to believe that, in our state, we cannot feed the hungry without retaliation from the “powers that be.” I will keep you, your organization, and your fellow volunteers in my prayers.

  37. Rebecca says:

    I agree there is a problem with the homeless in downtown Raleigh. However, I work across from Moore Square every day and I see the “homeless” smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, talking on cell phones and even an occasional laptop. Please explain how they can afford these things but can’t afford a sausage biscuit!!!!!!!!!!!! You should also have to walk by them every morning and afternoon having them ask for money and when you say you don’t have any to spare they talk so ugly and call you all kinds of names.

  38. judi says:

    Simply put parks are part of the public lands, taxes pay for maintenance and the property. Everyone who lives in the city homeless or not gets to use them. What better use for them than to feed the homeless and care for them. These are the rights of all the people, not just the wealthy or working. Let the people live by the rights of the constitution and use the public lands. Parks are for picnics and gathering of friends and families. Use them as that. You are friends of the homeless.

  39. Jerry says:

    Sounds like we need to do a moral Sunday!

    By the way, when is the City of Raleigh going to enforce Parking laws on Sunday?

  40. j.e. hoist says:

    we winter in bradenton, fl. this year kinda the same thing happened. a couple set up a place for kids near the skateboard area along riverwalk and had done it weekends for awhile and suddenly they were told by police they could no longer do it. they werent charging or anything just a kind loving thing to do. it kinda makes one wonder if no one higher up has ever been hungry or given to anyone. or even heard of the concept of giving!!!

  41. sw says:

    Will be passing this story on! I am a Republican and not happy with what some of our elected leaders have done recently. There seems to be an all out effort to rid Raleigh (maybe even the state) of those who suffer mental illness, substance abuse, or are otherwise unable to support themselves, all for appearances and bringing in the almighty dollar! I have worked in the field of mental health for many years and have seen this coming for a long time. THEY DON’T WANT SERVICES TO BE ACCESSIBLE TO THE HOMELESS IN AN AREA WHERE THEY ARE TRYING TO ATTRACT THE WEALTHY! Out of sight out of mind. I am thankful that these ministries exist where they do. The area I serve is mostly rural and there is only one shelter in our entire county. We have some local churches willing to feed the hungry and sometimes the individuals cannot get to these churches because there is no public transportation available for them. Someone or some group in Raleigh has pushed this issue and probably offered something to sweeten the deal. SAD DAY. I hope the community there will come together and find a real solution. For whichever one stated “teach them to fish.” You are right, but they need their basic needs met first so that they aren’t just trying to do what it takes to survive the next day. They can’t focus on learning something new while they are hungry.

  42. Terry Wyman says:

    Do it anyway, if you and friends get arrested, get a trail by jury, I am quit shore you will each and every time be found Not Guilty,

  43. Salley Cooper says:

    I am horrified that this situation could arise in America! On a day dedicated to Martin Luther King and his legacy, this action is inappropriate and cruel. It is cruel every day, and as a Christian I believe its perpetrators are headed straight to Hell. What would Jesus Do?

  44. Pingback: Outlawing Kindness | Literacy & Hope

  45. Sharon says:

    I think Mike is correct in that if the homeless and hungry aren’t publicly given a hand-up, the “people of privilege”, whether it’s legislators, financial “stake-holders”, or intolerant residents and business owners, won’t be confronted with the reality of Americans in need when they rant about Socialist policies. They won’t be burdened with the least twinge of guilt when they fight to eliminate programs that provide assistance. They can continue to support agendas that benefit their selves, and their financial peers, to the detriment of all others. Remove the evidence and maintain a clear conscience.

  46. Tim Krupa says:

    I was dismayed and very disappointed when I read this article this morning. I hope you will look into this and put a stop to this situation immediately. A practice of feeding the homeless that has gone on for 6 years, certainly should be allowed to continue.

    When I have traveled to North Carolina on business and for pleasure, this is not the North Carolina I found. I guess the community is changing. Recent racist and misogynist laws passed on the state level and now this action in Raleigh are very disconcerting and speak to a community of hate rather than one of openness that I had always found..

    This will definitely give me pause to any consideration for my next trip to your beautiful state.

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  48. Gary Dowd says:

    First – in response to Mr. Chrisawn – does it matter if they are all homeless or not? Not to me.
    This sounds like a great opportunity for the Mayor and City Council to show the public why they deserve their vote and support. If there are legitimate reasons why they would shut this down, please take the time to calmly and reasonably explain why and then help be part of a solution by working together with people who elected you to office to care for those in the community who are less fortunate.

  49. Glenda Jolley says:

    God is with you wonderful people. Hang in there. I believe with this publicity the officials will be sorry they did this.

  50. Jerry says:

    Sorry to here this, however across the country city Governments have been trying to stop Christians from following and practicing there faith. however if taken to court, they (Organization) gets an injunction that stop the city because their denying your freedom to live out your faith. Here in Kansas City been going out to the streets every Saturday for 21 years. Keep on Keeping on

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