Another Washington Park do-gooder story

The feeding line


Save me from your well-intended followers. I believe they do not mean harm and actually have in mind just the opposite, but the giving away food stuff on the sidewalks around Washington Park has got to stop. Ditto that for the obnoxious make-my-ears-bleed religious music and drawn-out conversion sermons that pierce the walls of my apartment on many given weekend days, as long as you keep the weather warm enough.

You (and maybe those I’m talking about, too) would not want someone setting up 3-foot high speakers to blare music all day, so loud you cannot even think, into your home. Same goes for cluttering the public’s sidewalk with tables of food and volunteers to serve it and a couple hundred people waiting in line. They always leave a mess – just like they did today – of over-flowing garbage cans, food dropped on the sidewalk that is never fully cleaned up. Today even a full garbage bag was left sitting in the grass. That’s even though they promised otherwise.

Maybe you could force the hand of a collective City Council to pass a city ordinance banning such activity. But, no wait. Stop. That would infringe on their First Amendment rights. Lord, you know how much I love the First Amendment. Please don’t do that. Let’s think of something else all together.

Thanks for listening. You’re so good at that.


Some would say I am getting exactly what I opted for when I moved to Race Street along Washington Park from Oakley more than three years ago. I would say phooey. Taking responsibility for your own behavior and building community can happen anywhere – even in Over-the-Rhine. Hey, this is the center of our region. It’s the best place to start, I think.

The good people from Vineyard Community Church in Springdale – who sponsored Saturday’s feast of pulled meat sandwiches with Montgomery Inn Barbecue sauce, cookies and muffins, red-ripe apples and lemonade – thought I was out of line for even bringing up the concern.The woman who confronted me and walked away

I approached Tom, according to his name tag, who is apparently a biker (based on his black leather vest), to tell him my thoughts. I was not happy, but I think I was courteous in making my points. We just don’t need this type of help, I told him. I told him why, too. He listened to me then walked away with out saying a peep.

Then another woman – who walked away before I could get her name after she gave me a tongue-lashing – told me I was doing “biased journalism” (I do live here, after all) and asked me what I did to contribute to the community. She also told me to take a photo of her picking up trash – which I never saw her do. To answer her question, I told her I live here, for starters.

“Well, I’m sorry,” she said. “That was your choice.”

Wow. Man, I was kind of stupefied. Sorry? My choice? Well, yeah, but what’s that supposed to mean? You’re the one with the army of people from the suburbs ready to dirty up my neighborhood with pork scraps, spilled barbecue sauce, plastic forks and overfilled garbage cans. As for what I do for the community, at that moment I was wearing a WAIF-FM hat and a Flying Pig Marathon volunteer t-shirt. You might not want to get into a what-do-Tom, who walked awayyou-do-for-your-community square-off with me. Just sayin’.

But I digress, and I think she was missing the point. It’s not so much about the garbage or the feeding people or your religious views. I cannot think of anything more noble than what the Vineyard volunteers were doing, it was just a little misguided (same for the music folks, too). I doubt any of those folks here today would be too happy with me if I did the same thing across the street from their home.

Here’s an idea: Instead, as I started to suggest the walk-away woman, pair up with the Drop Inn Center – just a half-block away from where Vineyard set up today.

Not a good idea, apparently. The unidentified woman told me there was no room at the Drop Inn Center. I think she actually lied to me. This might be a little unfair, but I phoned the Center’s executive director, Pat Clifford, right after she and I spoke. I have never volunteered there (I should), but Clifford said that was not the case. There was room. Plus, the Cincinnati Fire Department had just made a run there minutes before during the lunch hour. A paramedic told me the place was nearly empty.

Lots of room at the Inn – almost no one ate there today. They were serving hot dogs and potato chips for lunch, I was told. Turns out the typical diners at the Drop Inn were out in the park eating pulled meat sandwiches. Clifford said no outside groups sponsored Saturday’s lunch at the Drop Inn Center. But setting up sponsorship, i.e. volunteering, is easy. Contact the volunteer coordinator for future events. It would have been better to serve your food inside at the Drop Inn Center. They could even help you clean up.

Rules at the Drop Inn Center dictate that religious material cannot be handed out by volunteers, but Vineyard was not even doing that on the public sidewalk across from my home.

A short time after you left I also ran into Steve – my friend from ASG who always reminds me that I am the one who taught him what a blog is every time I see him – who said his church (there are about a half-dozen in the blocks that surround Washington Park, including two right along the park on Race Street near where lunch was being served by Vineyard) serves brunches for free every Sunday. Maybe you could use their church as a base instead of the sidewalk.

Park Board regulations now say giving away food in the park is not permitted. So, the many groups that come down here doing this sort of thing skirt the spirit of the rule and rely on the letter of it, opting to set up shop on the sidewalks around the park instead.
When I arrived home around 11:30 a.m. to the sight of the Vineyard volunteers, I could not find a satisfactory place to park. One of church’s vans was taking up part of two spaces, one of which was the only place quasi-available. I squeezed in anyway. A typical Saturday means loads of available parking spaces. Not today – and not against the law, either, but frustrating nonetheless. Plus, the sidewalk was crowded with people, so much so that it made it hard to walk by.

It’s not that I have a problem, per se, with anyone, religious or otherwise, coming down and feeding people. But there are already people doing this in the neighborhood on a regular schedule. Why not pair up with people who know the neighborhood and what is going on? Come down and learn a bit about what’s going on and most importantly be courteous to the people who live here everyday.

Trash leftover

By the way, I went down and had a Vineyard lunch. The food was pretty good, actually. But when I got to the Montgomery Inn Sauce person, he was out. So, I ran up to my apartment and brought down two bottles I just happened to have in my pantry. The volunteers were very grateful (as were, I suspect, some of the hungry takers). I’m glad I could help out. After all, they were already here, had some hungry people waiting. Can’t make them leave, even if I wanted them to. Just hope next time they – whether it be handing out food or playing loud music – will be more courteous and think more about those who call this place home before they do their good work.







18 responses to “Another Washington Park do-gooder story”

  1. […] In light of my series on urban Cincinnati, I found this blog post interesting. […]

  2. Kevin LeMaster Avatar

    Great blog post, Joe.

  3. blakefox Avatar

    How does that saying go?… “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”

  4. gojamz Avatar

    Here’s an idea. How about if the churchies loaded everybody up in yellow school buses and gave them a field trip to see Touchdown Jesus, then took them to Vineyard Church for their picnic? Everybody gets fed, the poor folks with limited transportation options get to go for a nice ride and all parties enjoy some trans-cultural exchange. Wouldn’t that be something nice? TD Jesus would be glad to see them.

  5. Joe Avatar

    Joe… I couldn’t agree more. I know that the folks there, and those that show up often to give out food/drinks, etc are very well meaning. They really do think they are doing good. The problem is, there is no follow-up. It perpetuates problems, and it doesn’t encourage positive behavior. The other benefit of working with groups like Drop Inn, are the rules. You can’t drink at the Drop (for example). I am glad they are interested in helping, it’s just a little misguided.

  6. Joe Wessels Avatar

    This comment came to me as an e-mail. The sender gave me permission to use it but asked that his/her name be removed. -Joe

    I share your frustration sometimes. Well, pretty much I share your frustration every Saturday. I believe it is an exercise in guilt relief. I mean look at the lifestyle of these christians: SUVs, large subruban houses, lattes at megachurch, the pastor drives a harley….

    However, a dialogue with them may deepen their understanding of what they are doing. I mean, do they realize that they and the other churches create this park culture? I think these are the same people who wanted to start the CityLink (another way to keep poverty in one location, far from your suburban home). They really should consider a shelter or treatement center as an attachment to their church. ( I mean this in all sincerity). Think about it. Would Jesus travel to give hand outs, or would he welcome the poor to share his own house?


  7. steve carr Avatar

    Thanks for writing that post. My wife and I moved back to the city to start a church because we love it here and believe we need to live here in order to make a difference.

    Most suburban Christians are very well intentioned when they do things like this but I believe it’s derived from a prejudicial view of the city ( i.e., “they need me to come in and save them”). That’s probably why the people you talked to had no answers: because they really have no idea why they’re doing it. But a big reason is to remove their guilt that was developed from sprawling away from the problem.

    I know this sounds harsh and perhaps even “un-Christian-like” (especially from a pastor) but until we really get down to the roots of the situation we’ll continue to perpertuate an already difficult situation.

  8. Joe Wessels Avatar

    This comment came to me as an e-mail. The sender gave me permission to post it exactly the way it was sent.


    I was very happy to read your Washington Park blog post. I’m a big fan of not giving folks a free pass just because their intentions are good, and I agree that doing what they do within spitting distance of the Drop Inn etc. is pointless at best, and actually a negative if they leave the place in worse shape then it was in when they showed up. It seems like all it does is make a self-satisfied Christian, like the lady you quoted in your piece, even more so… “Self satisfied,” I mean. Not “Christian”.

    Also, it’s funny you wrote about living on Washington Park when you did. On Friday, as I stuck an address label with your name on it onto a postcard the Library mailed out, I realized you live right around the corner from me. My wife and I just bought a place on Republic between 12th and 13th.

    Anyway, thanks, keep up the good work, and I hope to see you around the neighborhood.

    Chris Messick
    The Mercantile Library

  9. 5chw4r7z Avatar

    So all the drug addicts and alcoholics were rewarded again for making their home in OTR. As long as people enable them, they’ll never leave.
    I too wonder why they don’t give out free food in Mason, they could do it at the last stop of 71x and give everyone free tokens to get there and back.

  10. Kristy Avatar

    Hey, I just moved to Walnut. Will there be a food service for me here or will I have to walk all the way up to the park? I could show up drunk but don’t think I could praise Jesus. It’s a lot of trouble to cook on the weekends sometimes.

  11. Darrin Murriner Avatar
    Darrin Murriner

    Joe, I wanted to offer a couple of counterpoints to your post. First I would like to say that you make some great points in the article. Namely that it is silly to offer redundant services in such a small area. I think the effort is perhaps a little mis-directed but sometimes people fall into a rut of doing things the way it has always been done because it is comfortable.

    Rather than ranting about it on this blog (not just you but those that have posted comments too) why not approach Vineyard leadership and offer suggestions? Approaching volunteers is probably not the most effective way to come up with a better solution.

    The city of Covington recently asked the Northern Kentucky Vineyard to stop serving in Covington as well but rather than just passing an ordinance or confronting volunteers during service they facilitated an arrangement between “Drop-in” type organizations and The Vineyard to coordinate their activities.

    I have served multiple Saturdays at a similar hot-food giveaway in Newport and I don’t do it out of guilt as some on this blog have suggested but because I have a genuine love for people. I engage everyone in conversation and get to know them better, offer a smile, and try to form a relationship. After a few Saturdays we get to know many of the people that come by. It is wonderful when many of those that come through say that we are a gift from God – not because we bring free food but because we also bring free diapers, toiletries, and other items that everyone needs.

    Many posters have also suggested that us religious types love to confine poverty to a certain area and keep ourselves isolated from the poverty. This couldn’t be further from the truth for some of the mega churches in the area. The Vineyard in Springdale recently invested $12 million for facilities to serve people where they are. I also know that Crossroads keeps their facilities completely open and free to the public. Moms can use their nursery facilities, they have free wi-fi, coffee, drinks, games, etc that anyone can use. They are also located in Norwood – not exactly Mason. One could say that it might as well be located in Hyde Park but it is clearly there to serve an impoverished area. Many of the people that I know that attend the church live in neighborhoods from Clifton, OTR, and Norwood and are trying to make a positive change in their communities.

    All this to say that I hate seeing negative characterizations of churches in the tri-state area. Visit any of them and you will see that the people that run, attend, or visit them have a true heart for our community and seeing positive change – not just economic but social.

    In every organization – religious or otherwise you will find some people with negative attitudes or mis-directed efforts. I do think if we try a little harder to offer suggestions to the right people we can come to a better solution. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to facilitate a meeting with decision makers. I am sure the last thing they want is to offend neighbors in the process of performing what they believe to be a good service.

  12. Joe Wessels Avatar


    Your points are very well taken. As soon as I published this post I sent an e-mail to a random senior pastor (just one lucky dood whose e-mail was on the church’s Web site) at Vineyard in Springdale with a link to my blog post.

    Much to his credit he responded Sunday evening. I have not returned his e-mail yet, but will. And soon. He wants to hook me up with Vineyard leadership.

    In my e-mail I offered to begin a dialog so that Vineyard and other church/synagogue/mosque groups who find their way down here can give back in a way that helps, not hurts.

    I plan to write about that on my blog as soon as I get permission from the pastor to do so (I’d like to include his name).

    By the way, I also mentioned the situation to an Over-the-Rhine pastor and he told me he was already working on something akin to what I suggested to Vineyard. It’s supposed to launch soon. Hope to write about that, too.

    Thank you for your kind thoughts and seemingly genuine interest. And thanks, too, for reading my blog.


  13. Dyah Avatar

    I’ve talked to the Vineyard Pastor about it and he said you’ve already connected with one of the pastors.

    For the readers’ information:
    – The Vineyard WILL develop a “Healing Center” next to their church, that will address all kinds of “Needs” to expand their current ministry (MercyWorks) that help people not only with food, job coaching, etc, but also counseling.
    – I’ve heard some opinions about serving food at Washington Park, but here’s what I heard from the homeless people themselves. They could get soup from so many kitchen soups or churches there in OTR, but they need these sandwiches when they go to WORK since the temp job services CHARGES them $2.75 for lunch. SO they save the sandwiches for later.

    – NOT ALL the homeless are drug addicts. They WORK, for goodness sake! Please don’t generalize people just because they are homeless.

    – And yes, JESUS WAS HOMELESS, and He would prefer that these people who help them would be among them and live with them and above all, LOVE THEM. But, the Vineyard Church, unlike SOME other churches, claimed themselves as the church of the broken and the losers and the sinners, and I am one of them.

    Thanks, Joe for generating a great discussion!

  14. Joe Wessels Avatar

    Dyah, I’m a little confused by the comment post. Is that middle part you or a pastor writing?

    I did hear back from a Vineyard pastor and plan to post his response, but I was waiting to hear more. I’ve actually heard from more than just a Vineyard pastor, but other pastors, residents and business owners in Over-the-Rhine… Another post is in the works.

  15. Dyah Avatar

    Joe, that’s all just me. I sometimes hang out at the Outlet at City Gospel Mission, at the basement, on Saturdays, with my friends where I got all those stories. I also go to the suburban church called the Vineyard. I just want everyone knows that we don’t claim ourselves to be “do gooders” cause all we try to do is to love people, as Jesus would. We have our short comings, of course cause all of us are sinners and no one is perfect. That’s why I think it is important to listen to concerns like yours.

    I was reading all the comments here…it’s so good to know and it really is a good discussion.

    Looking forward to the next post.


  16. […] bless them. Really. They mean well, but after this blog post and my first column in CityBeat, I still believe we are not seeing eye-to-eye on the cause and […]

  17. Liz Avatar

    Liz here, previously from Kaldi’s… You know me.

    I know this post is from a long time ago, but do you mind if I link to it in my blog? I’ve been writing a bit about faith in the city and I think you’ve got some fabulous insight, my friend. Let me know, eh?


  18. Joe Wessels Avatar


    Of course you can link to my site… It’s great to hear from you…


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