Just when I thought things couldn’t possibly get any more ridiculous, this story was brought to my attention. A woman in Philadelphia may find herself facing a $600 a day fine. And her crime? Handing out meals to children in a poor neighborhood. I know. Scandalous. I saw the headline and thought it was going to have something to do with food safety or something, which would have been troubling enough, but it’s not even that. It’s about zoning.
The food comes from the Archdiocese. All the proper paperwork is completed weekly. She’s visited every other week by a state worker. But she’s doing this in a neighborhood, an area zoned as residential. Handing out food isn’t allowed there.
So let’s talk a little bit about this neighborhood. It’s in Chester township, which has a per capital income of $19,000. In the summer, kids are home from school and they’re poor. Some may not get regular meals. Much of the housing is in terrible condition. There’s a clear need, thus the provision of meals. And the meals are being distributed by a private individual, on behalf of a religious organization, on private property.
And yet, the local government thinks it somehow needs to intervene, which is, sadly, all too typical of government’s approach to charity. Rather than allowing people to get on with helping people, in a way that fosters meaningful community and human relationships, the government involves itself, regulating and bureaucratizing. Does anyone really believe that government intervention is going to improve this process? Is she really creating a threat or a nuisance so severe that it is having a detrimental effect on the lives of others living in the neighborhood?
There was a time when “love your neighbor” was considered a principle to live by. Feeding kids seems to be about as practical an application of that principle as any I can conceive. Perhaps the government should get out of the way and let people do just that.