The search for an alternative site for FoodFirst, a new three-story building proposed by the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service to replace its existing pantry, is the subject of intense debate in downtown Carrboro. But IFC director Michael Reinke has a simple request: "Is there a chance that we could talk about what's going on in Carrboro being about feeding hungry people, and not being about the homeless?"
The pantry, he reminds people, is a different thing from the IFC's men's shelter: "All the people that we're serving are people that have housing. They're just hungry."
The IFC plans to relocate current dining services from Chapel Hill and consolidate all of its food assistance operation in one spot. The nonprofit's Main Street property is the obvious but controversial first choice.
Several months ago, some fifty downtown businesses, citing concerns about the "chronically homeless" scaring away customers, signed a petition asking the town to put the IFC services somewhere else.
Reinke allows that some clients of the men's shelter may occasionally bus into town to enjoy food and fellowship at the new building, as they currently do in Chapel Hill. But if that worries you, consider this: "If you go and eat at Weaver Street Market and you sit down on the lawn there, you might be sitting next to somebody's who's teaching at UNC, and you might be sitting next to somebody who doesn't have a place to stay. Sometimes it might be hard to tell the difference."
Still, the town's board of aldermen asked the IFC to look for an alternative; after an extensive and expensive search process, the IFC located an undeveloped plot with about 1.3 acres of usable land at 303 Jones Ferry Road.
Sherri Ontjes, the retired creator of Carrboro's North Carolina Crafts Gallery and a petition signer, is pushing hard for that option. "I'm trying to make sure that people who are hungry are fed, and that people who are running small businesses are taken into consideration," she says.
But that property presents its own challenges. It's divided by a stream that constrains land use. Reinke says there's a possibility of an environmental hazard. And bus lines are less accessible than at the downtown site.
An IFC board meeting about the two sites is scheduled for May 25. Reinke expects a final decision by June 30. The IFC will then hold a series of community forums before submitting a rezoning petition to the town council between October and next March.