Food bank bans access to 13 people


A Carroll County food bank has barred 13 Westminster people from getting food there for six weeks after a city police officer reported that they were trying to sell food to buy alcohol and were littering the grounds of the Westminster library.

Thomas E. Canon, operations manager of Carroll County Food Sunday Inc., told the 13 when they came for the regular weekly food distribution last week that they will receive nothing until Aug. 1.

He said his action resulted from a report by Officer Howard Friedman that listed 13 people the officer said had tried to sell food packages or had littered the library grounds with food and food containers.

"The food is meant to be eaten, not sold for booze or spread around," Mr. Canon said.

He didn't know how many people were accused of trying to sell food and how many were accused of littering.

"Officer Friedman didn't make a distinction between who did what," he said.

Some of the affected people, who congregate in downtown Westminster during the day, denied trying to sell the food.

"I give it to my daughter," said Charles Hammond, who said that he was denied Food Sunday donations last week. He said his 11-year-old daughter lives with him and his mother on Stone Chapel Road.

"Bandanna Mike" Seitler, who is homeless, said he didn't know of anyone who had tried to sell the items they received from Food Sunday.

"Why would I sell something I'm going to need?" Mr. Seitler said.

Paula Hanson, also homeless, said Officer Friedman accused the 13 of having a "party" with the donated food on the library grounds. Ms. Hanson said she was among those cut off from the food bank.

"We didn't have any party," she said.

Officer Friedman has received several reports that people have tried to sell food on the street, said Lt. Dean Brewer, Westminster police spokesman.

The lieutenant said Officer Friedman took action on the most recent complaint, from a man who said he had been approached on the street and offered food for sale.

"So, based on that and the number of other people involved in these littering things, that's how he [Officer Friedman] came up with the number of 13 people," Lieutenant Brewer said.

Mr. Canon said his impression from Officer Friedman's report was, "If they didn't like something [such as cereal], they were spreading the cereal around."

Library officials said they had no knowledge of any recent major littering incidents. Both Ann Gilligan, the Westminster branch manager, and Ann Wisner, the Carroll County Public Library public information officer, said they knew nothing of food strewn around the grounds.

Lieutenant Brewer said isolated attempts to sell food on the streets technically wouldn't violate the law, but that anyone who regularly sold food on the street would be required to obtain a city hawker's or peddler's permit.

He said police passed along to Food Sunday the information they received from the man who complained, "just making them aware of what was going on."

Mr. Canon said he believes the people he cut off will be fed at shelters or soup kitchens that serve lunches in Westminster daily except Tuesday.

Food Sunday has cut off food distributions before to people suspected of trying to sell the items,, he said.

"We're a community-supported charity," he said. "I'm sure they [donors] wouldn't appreciate their money being spent in that fashion."

Mr. Canon said that, to be reinstated by Food Sunday, the individuals he denied must sign statements saying they understand that trying to sell the food violates the organization's rules.

He said he may incorporate into the statement a pledge not to litter.

Mr. Seitler said he believes the accusations are part of a police effort to make Westminster so inhospitable that the people who congregate downtown will move to another community.

"I'm going to fight that, just by hanging out," he said.

Lieutenant Brewer said no police strategy exists to divert the homeless and others who congregate downtown to other places.

Food Sunday has operated in Carroll County for 13 years.

The food bank receives $1,500 a year from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but relies heavily on private donations.

Food Sunday served about 40,000 people in 1994, Mr. Canon said.

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