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.
This entry was posted in Biscuitgate, Blog and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1,096 Responses to Feeding Homeless Apparently Illegal in Raleigh, NC

  1. Danielle Campbell says:

    You say no soup kitchen or homeless shelter offers food on the weekends, but the Men’s and Women’s Healing Place of Wake County both serve breakfast and Dinner on weekends and a bed.

  2. Dan Gilvary says:

    Just remember Mr. Policeman. My favorite line from the movie Cool Hand Luke…..”Calling it your job don’t make it right boss.” And beyond this I would like clarification on the threatened arrest. Arrested for what???

  3. SF Reed says:

    Seems we need “Moral Saturdays” and “Moral Sundays” in addition to Moral Mondays. These could be organized to feed the hungry in defiance of stupid “laws” like this. Civil disobedience is in order–feed the hungry in defiance of a police order with no justifiable law behind it. Force the conversation into the courts and media. (We need to know, who is behind this? Why now?)

  4. Ralph Calhoun says:

    The tone of your reactions is so Biblical. I would have been angry and probably gotten myself arrested, with a feeling of righteous indignation. We will pray for you and the folks you serve. You are doing Christs work.

  5. Gregg from VA says:

    I’m just curious: The beneficiaries of this wonderful program- They don’t happen to be a majority of African-Americans, per chance? Because North Carolina is so well know for their progressive racial ideas, such as the new voter ID laws. No, I’m sure there is nothing like that behind this sudden change in enforcement.

  6. Nancy Steinhauer says:

    This is so wrong on so many levels!!! Shame on the leaders in Raleigh City Hall!!! I volunteer to feed the homeless in Atlantic City, N.J. And it is one of the most humbling, rewarding experiences I have ever done! I pray you find a solution! Perhaps a church will loan you their parking lot!! I hope those council members can look at themselves in the mirror! I couldn’t! Bet they call themselves Christians too!!! Shame, shame on you, Raleigh!!!! Many prayers and best wishes to be able to continue this very humane act!!

  7. Dianne says:

    Praying. And believing you will find a way. Praying for those who make the decisions that they will realize that to do good and to do right is always a better economical option for a city. Helping people does not attract more people who need help– helping people strengthens the community and provides hope.

  8. Lisa says:

    Such a sad story and I support your efforts on a subject that’s close to my heart. I will pray for you and for the people that you are helping and also for those that are trying to stop a good example of what The Lord wants us to do. Praying about it is really all you can do and The Lord will provide an answer.

    Deuteronomy 15:11
    For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command you, saying, you shall open your hand wide unto your brother, to your poor, and to your needy, in your land.

  9. Jamaul says:

    By law they have to tell you what law you are breaking before they arrest you. There is problem number one. Doesn’t your church have an attorney or at least one that is in your congregation ? How about a police officer that is in your congregation? Way I would do , is that I would go to the precinct that the park is closest to and tell someone what happened and then ask which law were you breaking? If its the fact that you have to have a permit there are ways around that legally. You could give your food away on your own property, for example at the church, or you drive to a location where you know the homeless will be and give it away there. I’m not in Raleigh but in Charlotte there are no permits for giving food away. If you sell food you need a permit but not to give it away. For example what the difference between what you are doing and what people do during tailgating at a game or when you have people get together for a picnic. Sounds like they are trying to make money off of you.

  10. Jason James says:

    They would’ve had to take me to jail. This is just another reason I have no respect for police officers or anyone in a position of authority. Since when is helping your fellow man a crime? North Carolina is really going to shit, and I’m damn glad that I left that state…

  11. Deborah Hall says:

    He should have handed out the sandwiches anyway! Being arrested for giving a man a biscuit would have caused a media frenzy (imagine the headline) and attracted good lawyers and made the police chief admit there was no such ordinance. The only reason behind the interference is that someone with money doesn’t want a bunch of homeless people hanging out in a downtown area on Saturday and Sunday. It’s bad for business. Hopefully, the police chief will find out that stopping the handouts is bad for his job.

  12. MKF says:

    You should blatantly break the law. If the people define the law, and you believe, as I do, that the people stand behind you then there is no error in your ways. Break the law and bring this to the attention of higher authorities and eventually the highest authority, Us.

  13. Prudence says:

    i would suggest, if you have not already done so, that you partner with a church whose proximity is near to the park that has served as your feeding center, for ease of the people arriving to get the food and beverage to walk to. you could then set up the feeding station in the church’s parking lot.
    ~ Look for The Divine Gift & Blessing within this situation ~

    prayer for the officers, Mayor and Town Council that their hearts may be opened to Love (as they are quite evidently closed by fear).

    Thank you for the living demonstration that you are, of Christ’s Love In Action.

  14. W Meadows says:


    Distribution of food prohibited.

    No individuals or group shall serve or distribute meals or food of any kind in or on any City park or greenway unless such distribution is pursuant to a permit issued by the Parks, Recreation and Greenway Director.

    While I don’t agree with stopping someone from trying to do something good I am just posting the ordinance that I found. I know you said you are on the sidewalk but do the homeless take the food into the park? Like I said, I’m not agreeing with the actions the police took and I believe there are certain exceptions to laws. This most definitely being one.

  15. Michael B says:

    North Carolina has lost its soul.

  16. Von Wer says:

    ” I was hungry and you fed me. ”

    I guess the government wants people to starve.

  17. Grace prevails says:

    What the devil means for harm, Jesus takes and makes for good!!! LOVE WINS is getting shared to soooo many people now that didn’t even know you exist! God will use this negative story to reach thousands! (Free advertising)!! Oh, rejoice guys! The right people at the right time are being brought forth to support your organization! Watch and see! The Lord is good!

  18. D Boutwell says:

    Matthew 25:31-45 calls us to help anyone we can. Romans 13:1-7 says we are to submit to governing authority. Doing both can be accomplished. Sadly I see not one person (including the author) has mentioned prayer. Pray God will prove faithful and provide a new location. Pray God will allow the continued use of the current location.

    You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it.” (Matthew 21:22 NLT)
    You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it! (John 14:13, 14 NLT)

  19. Brenda Wilcox says:

    This angers me from every angle.
    I just sent the Mayor and every other email you provided this message…

    You are unAmerican if…

    …IF You do not do everything in your power to fix the problem of YOUR homeless being denied food.
    Do something important for humanity to deserve your title.
    Brenda Wilcox
    Fort Lauderdale, FL


    Sent from my iPhone

  20. Gail Anderson
    although I agree that the cops shouldnt be doing what their doing I think the food should be distributed at a church or somewhere that allows it..you say it is a sin…well so is taking Gods name in vain twice as you have. blashemy .

  21. Carole Schneider says:

    I have heard more than one conservative “Christian” politician say that communities should take care of each other, reducing the obligation of the government to take care of the poor. Isn’t that exactly what these folks are doing?

  22. Shyrob Winters says:

    Whoa, this is mind boggling to me. How can anyone turn away hungry people or even being the stoping force blocking God’s people from doing his duties? This World and the people in it amazes me everyday with some of the decisions we make and the orders we follow. Where is moral fabric, compassion, shared heartaches? Dear Heavenly Father, please get us where we need to be.

  23. John Brooks says:

    For some reason the map link you supplied will not pull rep per.my address. I will call the main person and find out but you may have more success getting people to call if u correct functionality. Just explaining, not complaining, so you can achieve your goal. Gotta go call now. Thx for information.

  24. Michelle Montgomery says:

    Is there a law against holding a birthday party in an area that does not require you to have a permit? If so why not make up invitations from paper inviting each person to the party leave a space open for them to place their name no line under it such a space where they can add their name and when you get approached just say they are guest to the party it is a celebration party to a new beginning . It is worth a try you don’t normally see cops crashing down a birthday party.

  25. JustTrueBlue says:

    You need a twitter share button on this article to make it easy to share on social media (as well as all the other share buttons, facebook, tumblr, Pinterest, reddit, etc… ) I have shared on @justtrueblue but had to open in safari and cut and paste the URL… Most people won’t take the time. Just hoping this goes viral for you. Best of luck for this wonderful and blessed cause.

  26. Stephanie willhelm says:

    Have you asked the chief of police or mayor what ordinance or law you are breaking? That is a very legitimate question that should be answered by someone.

  27. Bill Hand says:

    Have you contacted the press about this? I am certain they would get the word out. And there are law organizations whose purpose is to fight battles like this for Christian organizations.

    The ACLJ: http://aclj.org/

    Christian Legal Society: http://www.clsnet.org/center/about


  28. Laurence says:

    Here in the UK, if you’re arrested the arresting officer has to state clearly which law s/he thinks you’ve broken.

    My advice: get your lawyer to go with you and feed the hungry; if you’re arrested, you will have to charged and go to court. Assuming there _isn’t_ an actual “Homeless persons (prevention of feeding) Act”, they would have to go for something like obstruction or Public Nuisence. Go to court and plead Not Guilty. The chances of them winning are pretty much nil, they’d be dragged through the mire. get all the bad publicity, and cot a lot of money.

    More immediately, how about a hall belonging to one of the churches involved?

    Good luck and may God be with you!

  29. Ed Miller says:

    I would have fed them that anyone! I would have loved to see the judges reaction when they found out that the cops arrested you for helping Homeless individuals and providing them food! That is crazy! Helping this people is what Jesus and God would want!

  30. Rosemary says:

    I am really concerned about this, you are trying to do something that would help people that are homeless, I think you should call Channel 5, Channel 11, and Channel 14 because thru the media, that might help get things done.. That policeman acted like he just didnt give a damn, true that might have been his orders bu t he could have did it better, do you know his name, badge number> call the higher ups at CITY OF RALEIGH.

  31. W. Taylor says:

    I lived in Raleigh for 20 years… I could see issues with the way this act of compassion and generosity is carried out. I support what you’re doing. That said- I could see why local businesses, police dealing with traffic issues, and the city trying to be attractive to visitors- could take issue with the practice. If it has become an issue for whatever reason, why don’t the organizers work with the churches hey have partnered with? Why not have those churches open their doors and ACTIVELY invite those down on their luck in? I don’t know the number, but I know for a fact that there are multiple churches downtown. If you seek to give out to 100 homeless every week, why can’t these churches see fit to open 100 seats each weekend? Or just pass the food out just inside the church entrance. The answer is obvious, but people would rather take issue and be aggressive, rather than do the CHRISTIAN thing- turning the other cheek, and inviting your neighbor in.

  32. Matthew Jackson says:

    The law being broken is there to protect the homeless as well as you. In most locations it is illegal to disperse food without a commercial kitchen and a valid food license and inspection report posted.

    My advice, buy a food truck and make your own biscuits and coffee. You can get the truck licensed easily enough and if you give away food you prepare from it, you are merely giving away your profits. No crime, and you are within the law.

    The law is valid because there are crazy people out there who might hand out tainted food. The law is there to protect everyone involved. Having a commercial food license means you have insurance in the event someone gets food poisoning and dies. Therefore YOU are protected too. And the cops and city cannot make an exception because they would have to make many exceptions and to those they don’t make one for, the people would claim discrimination.

    I know it’s a bum deal for something so kind hearted, but a little common sense and not over reacting will go much further to solve this issue than everyone protesting.

  33. joe ortola says:

    i applaud you efforts to feed the hungry in your city and that you did not make assumptions and place blame for this unfortunate twist of events….i hope you come to some resolution with the city….

  34. Rob Jones says:

    I was going to say that this is unbelievable but it isn’t, it’s all too believable.

    It sounds to me, from a distance (I’m in the UK), like an attempt to sanitize the area. Would I be cynical in suspecting that there is a process of “gentrification” about to take place? Property (real estate) developers don’t like having their potential profits impacted by nasty inconveniences like homeless people. Some things are the same the world over.

    Don’t let “the powers that be” beat you. Follow your consciences and do what is right within your own means and capabilities. If that means that some of you get arrested, just wait for the firestorm that will surely follow such a stupid, outrageous abuse of power – you will be out of jail with an apology within hours, you mark my words. There may be things wrong with America but the people having no sense of justice doesn’t strike me as one of them.

    If they want to arrest you, surely you have a 6th amendment right “to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation”. Surely they can’t just chuck you in a cell without telling you why?

    This might be a long shot but would you be covered by your 1st amendment right “peaceably to assemble”?

  35. Angelo says:

    I see the city council as attempting to keep the park area enjoyable for the producers in the business community.
    There is a Salvation Army and the Raleigh Rescue Mission one street over from the park.
    Love Wins Ministries needs to cooperate with those existing locations instead of trying to create another poverty outpost in the business district.

    Before you call me an a-s-s-h-o-l-e…. In 2002 I gave away all of my possessions and went to live in a Baltimore men’s homeless shelter where I not only depended on the food and shelter but I covered shifts to give the paid staff relief.
    The staff kept asking me why I didn’t take the director’s job opening, I told them I would fire most of them because it was just a job and not a passion for them.
    I only lasted two months — even though I busted my butt from 6am until midnight doing everything from
    shift coverage,
    covering weekends so staff could take off,
    admissions of new clients
    to supervising jobs.

  36. David Peterson says:

    Additionally, the Raleigh Rescue Mission is located at 314 E Hargett St Raleigh, NC 27601. There should be 0 (zero) people starving out there. For those of you that are angered by this article and would like to help, donations and volunteers are accepted. http://www.raleighrescue.org

  37. Webster Papajohn says:

    As with all things, I would like to hear a response from the opposite perspective. Feeding the homeless is a noble cause, there is no dispute in that. Would like to hear what Raleigh PD has to say.

  38. DBB says:

    I find it hilarious that people are telling you to just get arrested, ya know, since Jesus and MLK were arrested. Easier said than done to purposely break the law to face a fine, go to jail, and possibly lose employment, etc.

    But anyway, I think it’s great what you are doing for the homeless and I’m sure GOD will find a way for you to continue your work, legally, without having to go to jail to do it. GOD BLESS!

  39. Veteran of NC says:

    I am appalled at this the government is doing so little to help the homeless due to budgets and things of that sort. But you go and stop those who actually give a damn about society. Damn Shame

  40. Mike Parent says:

    What would Jesus have done, Officer?

  41. Thea Scott says:

    Emails sent to all on list.

  42. PIYA MOORE says:


  43. Pingback: Feeding Homeless Apparently Illegal in Raleigh, NC |

  44. John Jay says:

    One option is to simply ask 70-100 church members from the various supporting congregations to come downtown and take a new friend to breakfast or lunch. Mass food distribution and a one-on-one lunch might be very different in the eyes of the law.

  45. AJ Calabrese says:

    The police behavior seems a little disingenuous given they pull up at Dunkin Donuts and are showered with donuts and coffee…

    Bless you for the good work you do. It will work out in the end. I know it will.

  46. Nancy says:

    My husband is an attorney. He suggested to me that you all find an attorney that will work with you and that he be present to request that the police explain which law you are breaking by giving away food and coffee. Then, if anyone is arrested, the attorney can represent you and really bring into the open, the basis for their arrests (if a legitimate basis for it actually exists).

  47. prefer not to says:

    I will discourage any and all from doing any business with Raleigh They want to play, fine with me. The $$$ they will lose from tourists should give at least one business person a hint. and as for the Mayor and minions, Pity you as you could be the very next one to fall into “Homeless’ category, nothing like first hand sxperience

  48. Dennis says:

    Uriel: I agree that this is terrible, but it is in no way unConstitutional. I have no idea where you got that idea. You not liking something does not make it unConstitutional; it just means you don’t like it.

  49. John Bourgeois says:

    I think it is disturbing that some of the people commenting on this post think that this issue should be treated differently since you are supporting the beliefs of your religion. We can’t have freedom of religion in this country if we cannot exercise this freedom. Everyone is entitled to use a public street regardless of religious affiliation. Even if the person is not a member or follower of your religion, they should respect the concept that you are only attempting to do a good thing. Example 1: “while I could never in any way shape or form support your religion” — Susan. I ask all of you. Who would say such a thing? Could she have simply said, “even though I am not a member of your organization”? Example 2: “Shouldn’t this be less about religion and more about helping people?” — Matt. Doesn’t Matt understand that the concept of “helping people” came from Christ? That before Christ this concept didn’t exist? Another example of how Americans have become religiously illiterate because as a country we have cast the discussion of religions out of our public schools. I attended a religious high school, but we still studied the beliefs of all other religions so that we could understand what each religion stood for and could compare it to our own belief system.

  50. Meira says:

    Good for you! It’s refreshing to see someone willing to risk the consequences of their commitment to God. You have a wonderful ministry. I am a Jew living in Israel. We lived in Jerusalem 5 years ago and we did something similar on a smaller scale. There are a lot of homeless in Jerusalem and most of the soup kitchens are closed on Friday. We have a big problem with this as it leaves people with no food for 2 days over the Sabbath. We started making egg sandwiches with veggies, and getting cheap but decent fruit . My husband would go out on Friday mornings to the center of town and just walk around with his box on a first come first served basis. We didn’t worry about drinks because most cafes will give anyone a cup of water.
    I think it’s horrible that this is illegal in Raleigh and I think it’s awful that homelessness is illegal anywhere. Did they even give you an explanation like maybe sanitation issues with the food? it sounds like they’re being fascistic and just want control. Any “reasonable” objection could be worked out. I suggest that since you are buying this food tho, you just give out the money. It’s between them and God if they buy food or not. Most will, but it’s not for you to judge. God bless you and keep it up!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>