Soup kitchens now defined as restaurants, spurs mixed reactions

By Angelica Lavito

The city of Champaign defines a restaurant as an establishment which is open to the general public, and where food and beverages are prepared and offered for consumption.

This definition eliminates the requirement of having food for sale, which the Champaign City Council voted 8-1 to adopt last month. The change will allow soup kitchens to fall under this definition and has spurred mixed reactions in the community. 

“As a city, we have to decide what’s in the common good of everyone,” Tom Bruno, deputy mayor and city council member-at large, said. “Its fairly clear that it’s in everyone’s common interest that we find a place for these kindhearted folks who are feeding the hungry.”

William Jones owns Rose and Taylor Barber and Beauty shop, and is concerned about what impact having a meal center nearby could have on businesses like his own.

“You have mental issues, behavioral issues, illicit activity, criminal activity, domestic disputes, fights, theft. All of this takes place on a daily basis that you do not find at a typical restaurant, which they are labeling a meal center or soup kitchen in the same category as a restaurant,” Jones said.

Bruno said he recognizes business owners’ concerns, but thinks the change is justified.

“Nobody wants the crematorium on their block, but it has to go somewhere. You have to have a nuclear waste site but no one wants that near them,” Bruno said. “The reality is that if we poll people, a lot of people would probably say, ‘I don’t want the homeless getting their meals on my block.’”

Daily Bread Soup Kitchen currently operates at New Covenant Fellowship and offers full meals five days a week and soup and sandwiches on weekends. 

When they began looking for a new location where they could operate seven days a week, they realized meal centers were not mentioned in zoning ordinances and came to the city for advice.

“The people who come see us are guests. Therefore, like guests at your home, your guests don’t pay for their food,” Daily Bread Soup Kitchen Board President Bob Goss said.

Goss is aware of concerns about loitering and crime, and said Daily Bread is different from people’s preconceived notions of a soup kitchen.

“We don’t have more problems than any other restaurant in town. If there’s a problem though, we deal with it and prevent it from happening again,” Goss said.

Daily Bread is still in the process of finding a new location. Goss added that a new facility will not open for about three years because once they find a location, they will have to run a capital campaign to fund the new facility.

A public hearing with the Champaign Plan Commission was held in November to receive community input. The council was asked to vote on the change in December, but they chose to explore the issue more at a study session in February.

The council voted on the change in March, with multiple members of the audience and council commenting on the issue.

Angelica can be reached at [email protected]