Zoning laws inhibit establishment of community soup kitchens


By Thaddeus Chatto

consider myself an adopted son of the city of Champaign. I was not born here, nor was I raised here. I began my journey here in fall 2010, and that is when I became a part of the Champaign-Urbana community. 

I am a firm believer that it is important for people within a community to give back to the place where they live. 

The Daily Bread Soup Kitchen has been giving back to Champaign since August 2009, and the hungry can find a meal there. 

The soup kitchen is currently housed at the New Covenant’s Fellowship Hall and serves lunch to about 250 people on weekdays, according to The News-Gazette. Additionally, about one-third of the guests who come to eat are believed to be homeless. The rest have homes but usually can’t afford to get food. 

It is rumored that the soup kitchen is scheduling to move into the old Emerald City Lounge building on First Street. It is about a block away from University Avenue and is close to downtown Champaign. But some of the businesses of North First Street have their reservations about the move.

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Many business owners said they do not want the type of people the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen attracts hanging around their stores and restaurants. Many of these business owners are presumably afraid that individuals who are homeless, or anyone seeking food from Daily Bread, might turn away costumers from their businesses.

Although not always the case, people tend to generalize homeless individuals as non-ideal citizens. If people see homeless individuals around local businesses, they might assume that it’s a poor area, that there’s a lot of crime or that the presence of homeless individuals is related to the quality of the business. People, for whatever reason, tend to feel uncomfortable around homeless individuals, whether it’s because we think they’ll ask for a handout or because we’re guilty of not giving something back.

This speaks volumes to the perceptions of the homeless or impoverished people that some still have. Not all homeless individuals are criminals, poor or drug-users — it is a fallacy to automatically assume any of those things.  

It shouldn’t matter what types of people come out to the soup kitchen because the only thing that is important is how the land is being used. The Emerald City Lounge building could be used for something good that benefits the community.

But it’s this very stigma — held by First Street business owners and its customers — that is preventing the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen from possibly expanding into its own location. It’s also preventing other businesses that work similarly to soup kitchens from establishing their presences in downtown Champaign. 

The soup kitchen’s current location only allows it to operate during the week. Its goal is to find a venue where it has its own building and can serve people seven days a week. 

Champaign city officials want to change the rules on zoning, and city council members are to have an upcoming meeting in which they will likely change zoning rules so that soup kitchens are regulated exactly like for-profit organizations.

The main provision they will have to address is the Zoning Ordinance, or Chapter 37 of the City of Champaign’s Municipal Code, which states that “restaurants shall mean an establishment in which food, refreshments, or beverages are offered for sale for consumption in the building or at tables on the lot in which the establishment is located.” Since the Daily Bread does not charge its customers for food, it is technically not a restaurant under Municipal Code.

The zoning change would not only benefit the Daily Bread; it would also make room for other soup kitchens to form in business districts that could reach to a wider population of homeless individuals or others. The zoning change could also make room for creative restaurants to open up in the business districts. 

Most of all, the zoning change could allow the Daily Bread to have an even bigger impact than it already has. By being in a more central location, not only is it in an ideal spot, it would show that the Champaign community is willing to have a soup kitchen near the heart of its business district.

The Daily Bread Soup Kitchen has been giving back to the community by providing food for those that are hungry. This type of public service gives hope to the community and shows a great amount of respect we have for other humans. As an adopted son of the city, I can only support this change in the zoning law because stigmas toward homeless individuals should have no place in preventing the establishment of a business that can truly benefit the entire community.

Thaddeus is a senior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @Thaddingham.