"We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are."
- Anais Nin
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Love Thy Neighbor
If Arnold P. Abbott has wasted a minute of his 90+ years on this planet, I’d be amazed.
That his lifetime of service and good works could culminate in jail time is simply unfathomable.
Born in Massachusetts in 1924, he was a pre-med student exempt from military service in the wake of Pearl Harbor. He chose active duty, served as a combat infantryman in North Africa and Italy, and was awarded two purple hearts.
After his discharge from the military in 1945, he earned degrees in Journalism and Political Science. He worked in sales, wrote and published poetry, fiction, and book reviews, and embarked on a political career through local and county offices. He was elected a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1964 and caused a stir when he insisted - in defiance of the convention - on the seating of the duly-elected Negro Mississippi Freedom Delegation. Some must have seen the wisdom of his stance; he was again elected to the Convention in 1968.
In 1970, Mr. Abbott moved to Florida, and with his wife, Maureen A. Abbott, he cared for the homeless and championed their rights. When Maureen passed away in 1991, Mr. Abbott founded the Love Thy Neighbor Fund in an effort to keep his wife close to his heart and to build on the foundation they’d established.
He and his volunteers have succeeded. Weekly they feed upwards of 1,400 people what are likely the only healthy, balanced meals they will receive. And in keeping with Mr. Abbott’s philosophy of offering a “hand up, not a hand out,” Love Thy Neighbor offers a nine-week Culinary Skills Training Program. Participants are provided with temporary housing, and they graduate with knowledge of all aspects of food preparation and sanitation. They can then go on to continue their culinary education at McFatter Technical College - without cost - or apply for jobs in the food service industry.
What does that mean in Broward County, FL, where the tourism and restaurant industries are paramount?
There are over 45,000 jobs for the taking. Love Thy Neighbor gives homeless people the tools to succeed in these jobs. They forge relationships that prepare people to move from the streets to gainful employment and safe, productive lives.
How has the City of Fort Lauderdale responded?
With an ordinance onerous enough to make public sharing of food virtually impossible.
Now, I admit, I say this without having seen a printed copy of the ordinance. I exchanged a series of email messages with Mayor John “Jack” Seiler regarding the situation, and while he at first seemed genuinely interested in working with Mr. Abbott, my requests for a copy of the ordinance and my offer to provide whatever is necessary to bring Mr. Abbott’s public feedings into compliance with the ordinance were ignored. Personal communication was replaced by a form email, and I got the message: the homeless in Fort Lauderdale are supposed to interact only with the government for assistance, not with their fellow citizens.
This is where I get cranky as all hell.
There is a clear shortfall in the services the City of Fort Lauderdale is providing to the homeless. If they’re doing such a great job, how are there so dang many people for Mr. Abbott and his volunteers to feed? And why can’t the city pitch in and help so there are none of the public safety issues with which Mayor Seiler seems so concerned?
Look, I’m a Miami native and I understand that the sheer number of homeless people in this area has caused problems. The homeless migrate to warmer climates so they won’t freeze to death. And yes, some of them are criminal and/or mentally ill. There are some ugly reasons people end up without a roof over their heads. Also, if you feed them, they stick around.
But these are not seagulls we’re talking about - they’re human beings. If you choose not to help them, fine. But Mr. Abbott is doing a selfless thing from the heart, and he’s doing it well. It’s wrong that his personal liberty and well-being should be compromised as a result.
My belief is that, in the United States of America, if one feels compelled by conscience or religious conviction to provide aid to others, his freedom to do so should be protected. Mr. Abbott has successfully sued the city once before, securing the right to feed the homeless on Fort Lauderdale Beach, and he’s determined to do so again.
That he is even in this position at age 90 is wrong.
If you agree, here are a few things you can do:
Contact Mayor Seiler. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org Or call him: 954-828-5003 Be positive. Be respectful. Anticipate a good outcome and believe we can make it happen.