(NaturalNews) A Florida couple who has been feeding homeless folks in a public park for over a year was cited recently for allegedly violating a local ordinance. Daytona Beach police officers says Debbie and Chico Jimenez are not allowed to serve home-cooked meals at Manatee Island Park without the proper permits, and threatened to arrest them on top of giving them each a $373 ticket for serving the homeless without permission.
NBC News reports that the couple's ministry, known as "Spreading the Word Without Saying a Word," has been serving healthy meals every Wednesday at the park for over a year. The Jimenezes claim that police officers never told them that they needed a permit, and are often at the park when the meals are being distributed. Only recently, they say, did it become a problem.
"We were given 10 days to either pay the fine or tell them we're going to court," stated Debbie to reporters. "We're going to court. The police don't like it. But how can we turn our backs on the hungry? We can't."
Debbie and her husband both quit their jobs to devote their lives to the project, which involves feeding more than 100 people weekly alongside several other volunteers. The couple says many of the people they serve have become like family members, which makes the issue an even more sensitive one.
"I have cried and cried and cried," stated Debbie, a former auto parts store manager. "The worst thing is, these are people we have grown to love, they've become like family to us, and now we're not allowed to go down and do that anymore. It's just heartbreaking."
City says Jimenezes were warned about violations, told to coordinate with city on charity projects
Six people in total, including the Jimenezes, were cited by Daytona Beach police officers, who say the group was given proper notice about the permits. A week prior to the issuance of the citations, the Jimenezes were warned that some of the people they were serving were destroying the park, including urinating and defecating on the grounds, according to Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood.
"We as a city have spent millions of dollars to turn that park into a place for families, kids, and dog lovers," stated Chitwood to reporters in defense of the citations. "We have an ordinance that says when people want to perform acts of kindness or charity that they must coordinate with our local social service agencies."
There is a fine line between performing acts of charity and disrupting the peace, especially in a public park used by others. In the city's defense, it takes an incredible amount of money and effort to transform a previously undesirable or crime-ridden public place into an area that can be used safely by everyone, which is what happened at Manatee Island Park.
But the Jimenezes claim they were never actually warned to leave the park, a position they will now have to defend in court. In either case, ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it, and in this case it appears as though the couple had the opportunity to coordinate with the city on feeding the homeless, but instead chose to do their own thing.
"There is a segment of the homeless population that is homeless by choice," added Chitwood. "I don't want to impugn them all. But some are homeless because they are sex offenders, substance abusers and bank robbers. That's why we ask (good samaritans) to coordinate with our social service agencies, because they know who needs to be served."