HUNDREDS OF the city's hungry gather daily on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and at LOVE Park for free food, but those days may be numbered.
Mayor Nutter yesterday banned outdoor food distribution in city parks to encourage more indoor, safe and healthy eating. The regulation takes effect in 30 days.
"This is aimed at increasing the health, safety, dignity and support of those vulnerable individuals who now gain their daily and often less-than-daily sustenance from well-intentioned groups of individuals and organizations in our city distributing food on our city streets," Nutter said.
The City Hall apron will be available for up to a year starting May 1 for food distribution by organizations that must reserve dates and times with the Department of Public Property.
The ban will not affect family picnics and barbecues. Violators will receive up to two citations and then a $150 ticket.
Nutter said mayoral administrations have tried to tackle the issue for years. Homeless advocate Sister Mary Scullion supports the initiative - but others don't.
"The reality is that people should have a choice about where they want to eat," said Brian Jenkins, executive director of Chosen 300 Ministries, a homeless-outreach organization that has three indoor locations and serves food on the Parkway.
City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell also expressed doubts.
"To tell people they will be fined if they continue to do that . . . I'm concerned," Blackwell said. "I don't understand what the new push is for."
Nutter said the announcement had no connection with the planned May opening on the Parkway of the $150 million Barnes Foundation.
In a related matter, the Board of Health will hold a public hearing today on a regulation requiring applications with the Health Department's Office of Food Protection that includes some personal information about the people providing food and lists when, where and what type of food would be served. The administration says this would help ensure that food-safety standards are met.
Additionally, organizations would need to have at least one volunteer complete a free safe-food-handling course. The board will vote on the regulation next Thursday.