NORTH — Some in North were hot, hungry and upset with Mayor Patty Carson on Monday over obstacles to the distribution of food from Harvest Hope Food Bank at the town square.
Martha Whetsone, assistant pastor of Faith Deliverance Center of Praise, said the church partners with the Columbia-based food bank and has distributed food to the community once a month for eight years.
“These people have a right as taxpayers and citizens. We’re already in a town that’s deprived. We have to do something to stand up and help the people. It’s nothing that we’re gaining from it. It’s through our partnership,” Whetstone said.
Whetstone said the mayor has told the church to pay a $50 deposit fee for use of the square’s public bathrooms and get liability insurance for each person that comes to the food bank to receive a box.
If the bathrooms are clean afterward, the $50 would be refunded to the church under the town’s pavilion use policy.
“There’s a refundable deposit. She said the next thing is we have to have liability insurance for everyone that comes. In the past eight years, we’ve never had to do that,” Whetstone said.
She says she asked Carson if she would waive the deposit, but the mayor denied her request.
“She said ‘no,’ she would be breaking the rules and her lawyer told her to treat everybody the same,” Whetstone said.
Nobody uses the space, Whetstone said. “We’ve only used it for giving out our food, and a day of prayer.”
“(Carson) says she’s enforcing the rules the right way. I feel that there’s no consideration for the citizens of North. We don’t have a supermarket. A lot of our constituents are elderly or handicapped. They don’t have a way of eating for the whole month,” she said.
The food distribution helps carry them over until maybe the next time they get their food stamps, Whetstone said.
Whetstone has appeared before town council, and says she’s talked to the mayor, but Carson won’t bend.
“We will pay the deposit, but to get liability insurance for everyone coming – we don’t know how many are coming. The fact remains that this is public property,” she said.
A citizen said she would like for the public bathrooms at the square, which were locked, to be open because she has bladder problems and will be undergoing bladder surgery soon.
Whetstone said Carson stated she will turn the food truck around because there is no liability insurance.
“She said, ‘You don’t have the driver’s number? Call him and stop him.’ I don’t have the driver’s number. She says, ‘When the truck comes, call me and I’m going to come and turn it around,’” Whetstone said.
If Whetstone were to distribute the food to the public at the church, Faith Deliverance Center of Praise, the food truck would be blocking sidewalks.
“This (square) is conducive to what we need – a parking area and all that,” Whetstone said.
Carson pulled up in a car as the citizens were waiting for the food truck to arrive.
The T&D asked Carson to explain what was happening but she declined to comment and left.
The T&D went to North Town Hall and requested to speak with Carson, but she’d left for lunch.
After receiving word about the commotion at the square, E.L. Charlie of St. Mark United Methodist Church arrived to inform Whetstone that the Rev. Dr. Thomas Bowman will allow the citizens to come to St. Mark UMC to distribute food.
The truck eventually arrived and the North citizens received food at the square.
Whetstone said she has contacted an insurance company but has not heard anything back.
In a third attempt to reach Carson, this time via phone, she stated again, “I have no comment.”
Carson explained during town council’s February meeting that North’s pavilion use policy, implemented in 2008, established the fee.
“Everyone will abide by the same policy,” she said. While it has not been enforced previously, it is being enforced now.
Carson also said during the meeting that the town will have to go through an attorney to change the policy.
Wyman Bruner, a lifelong citizen of North and retired minister, said he visits the church’s food banks and says the citizens have never had this problem.
“The place belongs to the town. They’ve been giving out this food for several years. Under Mayor Jeffcoat, these restrooms were open early in the mornings because sometimes people have to wait,” Bruner said.
The 82-year-old said he doesn’t understand the problem, calling it the worst he’s ever seen.
“I didn’t know that I went to bed last night and woke up living in Cuba, under Castro. It’s just about the same living under Castro. This is what we have to put up with over here in North,” Bruner said.