City shuts down Chef’s program of free meals to homeless
An executive chef was told to shut down his program providing meals to the homeless after Oakland Park city officials said he needed a permit.
(MIAMI HERALD) Once the private chef of A-listers like Rod Stewart, Ivana Trump and billionaire Allen Stanford, Jonas Hagg began donating his culinary talents to Oakland Park’s homeless community last month, giving out free meals for transients gathered at a Steven’s Field pavilion five days a week.
“I was driving past Sixth Avenue every day and I saw the homeless folks out there,” said Hagg, an executive chef for Dish Culinary Solutions, a catering company. “As a Christian, I just felt led to do something.”
But on Sept. 11, which President Barack Obama designated a day of national service, Hagg was told to shut down his outdoor soup kitchen.
The city and the Broward Sheriff’s Office have been receiving complaints since August from neighbors living near the pavilion who were put off by the traffic the outdoor breakfasts were attracting.
This string of complaints represents the latest in an ongoing volley among philanthropic groups, residents and city officials hoping to maintain a polished image in Broward County.
In 2001, the city of Fort Lauderdale tried to move a beachside weekly picnic for the homeless to a more remote location, but lost a lawsuit.
Recently, local groups have received public backlash for handing out sandwiches and snacks at a highly visible section of Stranahan Park. Fort Lauderdale’s City Commission stopped short of voting on the issue, but vowed to find other locations, such as city parking lots.
And now Oakland Park officials have challenged Hagg’s breakfasts, presenting him with a copy of the city ordinance — and an option:
Applying for a permit and paying a per-day fee to rent the pavilion.
“We haven’t shut it down,” said Assistant City Manager Horace McHugh. “We said they need to come in and go through the proper regulatory process.”
Oakland Park’s city ordinance requires a permit for events with groups of 20 or more, or programs “sponsored” by a person or organization.
Because food is provided, the one-hour breakfasts — which draw anywhere from a dozen to two dozen people — are considered sponsored events, McHugh said.
Hagg could apply for a permit to hold four such breakfasts a year, free of charge. After that, the daily rate is $150 per day for nonresidents. If granted a permit, Hagg, who lives in Hollywood, would have to pay the city $900 per week to rent the pavilion.
Hagg, who makes a living crafting gourmet food for high-end customers, said his low-key morning meals with Oakland Park’s down-and-out were the highlight of his day.
He said the homeless community was skeptical of his efforts at first, but soon came to accept him and his partner, Rich Judy, a volunteer with the Coalition to End Homelessness, once they saw the pair come back day after day.
They’d show up at 8:30 a.m., offering free coffee, sandwiches, fruit and light fare to people who had spent the night sleeping nearby.
Four years ago, a similar program helped Judy get off the street and transition back into mainstream society, he said.
A former transient, Judy was sleeping on Fort Lauderdale beach when Debra Allen, a pastor, walked up to him and asked him whether he was hungry. Allen gave Judy two bags of food, which he devoured instantly.
In the weeks that followed, he developed a friendship with Allen, who provided food for him and others sleeping near the beach six days a week. She persuaded him to get off the street and helped him get a job working with the AmeriCorps-VISTA volunteer program.
He’s hoping to encourage the same type of transformations in the lives of other people, many of whom are newly homeless casualties of the sliding economy, he said.
“I’m a testament that the homeless can find themselves again and get off the street and become productive members of society,” said Judy, who lives in Fort Lauderdale.
Hagg and Judy are scheduled to meet with city officials Wednesday to try and iron things out.
The 39-year-old chef is hoping Wednesday’s meeting will be an opportunity for him to compromise with the city and possibly partner with the local government in the effort to combat hunger and homelessness in Oakland Park.
“I’m seeking solutions,” Hagg said. “I’m going to do my part and ask them to do what’s right.”
The city of Oakland Park maintains that, like any other official group, Hagg and Judy must follow official city rules if they want to use the pavilion at Steven’s Field, one of the city’s public parks.
Hagg, who has prepared multi-course meals in the well-adorned homes of the country’s elite, said providing food for those who can’t afford shelter was nothing more than a simple act of human decency.
“On a personal level, cooking for famous people and millionaires, it almost made me sick when I saw a different side of the coin,” he said. “Cooking for the homeless is not something I do for my profession, it’s something I do for my own soul.”