North Park

North Park Drive-Thru Food Pantry In Danger of Being Shutdown by Code Enforcers

One of the issues San Diego code enforcement inspectors say they're investigating is whether the pantry's sidewalk setup is an impediment to pedestrians

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By car, foot and sometimes with strollers, people like Leah Jones go to the Uptown Community Service Center's drive-thru pantry to get free boxes of food.

"It honestly means the world when everything is a little bit short. Everything is a little crazy and crowded. It puts a lot of weight off my shoulders," said Jones, a married mother of two who’s found it tough to find work because it’s been tough to find daycare.

Since they set up shop in North Park outside St. Luke's Episcopal Church in September 2020, the nonprofit says they've helped feed some 700 families. But after a call and recent visit from city code enforcers in late January, Alisan Rowland says she felt blindsided when an inspector told her they may have to shut the pantry down.

One of the issues code enforcement says they're investigating is the fact that the nonprofit set up its pop-up tent and table blocking part of the sidewalk at Landis Street off 30th Street, where they pass out food boxes to drivers Monday and Friday afternoons.

Slowing traffic on Landis is another possible concern.

"I’m not seeing it. I’m out here for 3-and-a-half to 4 hours at a time and I don't see that many cars coming up and down the street," Rowland said.

Since the inspector's visit, the nonprofit's done away with the tent and moved their table back to make room for people walking by.

But Rowland’s concerned the city could still try and force the operation indoors,  which she says defeats the purpose during the pandemic.

"That’s why the Food Bank established this. They wanted to have a certain amount of drive-thru hours for every pantry so people wouldn’t be gathering in person and everyone can maintain social distance."

Rowland is hoping the changes they've made will appease code enforcement, so people like landlord Rui Madeus can continue to load up his SUV safely with food for his tenants in need.

"This is very convenient on the sidewalk because I can stop my car and keep going," said Madeus.

Rowland and Uptown Community Services Center are hoping they’ll be able to continue their mission of paying it forward.

"My dad was a Vietnam veteran and he had PTSD and was unemployed for a number of years. And being able to come to a food pantry and get additional support was important for my family. So it's important for me to do this for others in need," said Rowland.

City officials say they’ll allow the pantry to continue to operate during the investigation. Once it’s over, they’ll find an appropriate way to work with Uptown Community Service Center so they can come into compliance if needed.

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