U.S. News


Virginia food pantry cited after homeless people leave a mess

"We had 42 volunteers and had to spend over $2,500 to clean up that property that we could have used to feed the hungry."
Posted at 1:16 PM, Nov 06, 2023

A food pantry in Virginia said it received a citation because a large piece of its land was littered with trash left behind by the very people the pantry is trying to help. 

Brother Tim Luken is the abbot of Livingstone Monastery. With the help of many dedicated volunteers, he runs Five Loaves, an emergency food pantry that serves 1,800 families in Newport News. 

Luken told Scripps News Norfolk he's spent his life feeding the hungry and helping those in need. But it’s the same people he’s served for years who will cause him to be subpoenaed, he said. 

Down the road from the food pantry is a large plot of land that was donated to him in 2015. Luken said the original plan was to build a monastery and a new location for Five Loaves, but it's been taking a while to break ground.

"The city code does not allow for a monastery in its code," explained Luken.

Recently, the land has been occupied by others.

"Homeless people have moved in because nobody is monitoring the land," said Luken. "We, as a food pantry, can't always go there. I had strokes so I can't walk on the land as much as I would like to unassisted."

A couple of months ago, Luken received a letter from the city. It was a citation for litter on the land — a mess he said he had to clean up, even though he didn't make it. 

After many efforts of asking the people on the land to leave, Luken said the Newport News Police Department had to get involved. Once people were removed from the property, a five-hour cleanup process commenced.

"We had 42 volunteers and had to spend over $2,500 to clean up that property that we could have used to feed the hungry," said Luken.  "We could have used that money to feed the very people creating the mess."

According to Luken, the site was catastrophic. Couches were dragged onto the land, as well as chairs and other furniture. 

"[Homeless people] were even using electricity from the church, running a television when we got back there," said Luken.

On Sunday, he returned to the site and found the recent cleanup efforts didn't last very long. Once again, litter was everywhere.

Luken said police told him some of the people who had refused to leave the property will be appearing in court this week. He is now waiting for a notification that will inform him of when he needs to go in front of a judge.

Luken is asking the city to change its mind and alter the code to allow a monastery and food pantry, which would not only give Five Loaves Food Pantry a more permanent home but also help stop the people experiencing homelessness from populating the area.

This story was originally published by Daniella Saitta at Scripps News Norfolk.