Orion tickets church for 'Free Food' sign
July 27, 2011 - In the last month, New Beginnings Baptist Church has given away 28 tons of free food to area families in need. And, while they are not looking for anything in return, they've received many smiles and thanks from grateful people, plus two tickets from Orion Township.
At issue is a temporary sign the church displays on its property on M-24 -- across from the Indian Lake Road bridge -- when food is available. (They take it down when there is no food.) Pastor Tim Chappell received notice the church violated two township ordinances, numbers 78 and 138. The letter, from township enforcement officer Timothy McNaught was dated July 12. In the letter, the church was given a deadline of July 15 to take care of the issues, or be ticketed. The envelope that letter was delivered in had a metered postage mark from the township dated July 18. Two days after receiving the letter, the township delivered the two tickets.
"It's frustrating," Chappell said. "This has been going on for a couple of years. I want to go by the rules. I have talked to the township, and tried to get a sign permit and (was told) there is no way we can comply."
The problem, Chappell said, is the church doesn't know when food will be available -- so they don't know when the sign will go up.
"Gleaners will give us a call and say come pickup the food. When they do, we go get it and put up the sign to let people know it is available. I told him (McNaught) in the end, I am gonna' do what I gotta' do, part of that is feeding the hungry. They can send me to jail, I'm gonna' keep doing good."
He added, in the summer when fresh produce is in season, more food is available and the sign goes up about once a week. During the winter months, maybe once every two to three weeks. The church also received food from Oakland Livingston Human Service Agency, Meijer and even local farmers. Fresh produce needs to be distributed quickly, or it spoils.
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Chappell said three in five families in the Lake Orion area use food subsidies -- whether from government sources or from private, nonprofit or religious groups.
Last month the church was able to distribute 28 tons of food, to nearly 5,000 people.
"We are not a business. We are not making money off this. We had a free garage sale and gave away clothing because there are people in this community who cannot afford to even buy clothes at the Salvation Army. Some folks gave us money anyway. We are not keeping that money. This weekend we are having a free community dinner. Our job is to help the community.
"I could understand it if the sign was a nuisance, causing traffic jams or pollutions, but the sign is only up for a couple of days, then comes down. As a matter of fact, when we received the tickets, the sign was already down," Chappell said.
According to Township Supervisor Joann VanTassel, the issue is not the activity, it is the sign.
"We have received complaints. When we receive complaints we are required to act. The township is happy New Beginngs is reaching out and helping people," she said. "This is a reoccurring issue, I understand, dating back to 2007. Earlier this year they were given a verbal warning. It had no effect, and that's why they were ticketed."
Chappell said the township has taken the church to court in the past. "Somebody -- not related to the church -- parked their car out on our property and put a for sale sign in it. We tried to call the phone number a few times, and nobody returned our call. I got the ticket, it was my fault. I could have had the car towed, but I thought maybe the person was out of town. I didn't want to be mean. We went to court and ended up working it out, paying the $120 fee permit."
VanTassel said, other churches have worked with the township to resolve issue. "We have changed ordinances and we do not charge exorbitant fees."
VanTassel welcome a talk with New Beginnings to resolve the issue, but could not comment on the time-line and dates on the original letter, as she was not aware of it, prior to The Review raising the issue.
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On a side note, Chappell is challenging more local chruches to get invovled in helping feed the hungry. He said organizations like Gleaners has more food to give, but needs local churches to step up and get involved.
Don is Assistant Publisher for Sherman Publications, Inc. He has worked for the company since 1985. He has won numerous awards for column, editorial and feature writing as well as for photography. He has two, sons Shamus and Sean and resides in the area. To read archived copies of his columns, click on his name, just under his picture up top . . . He can be e-mailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org