PINE BLUFF, Ark. — It’s a major food source for people in Pine Bluff and Jefferson County, but currently the future of the First Ward Living Grace Food Pantry is uncertain after an eviction notice was served last week.
For five years, Debra Allen has used the old Southeast Middle School building, but last month the city bought the property from the school district, and last week, Allen got an eviction letter saying she had to go by end the end of the year.
The letter also says because of asbestos abatement, workers will be at the site and items may need to be removed before then.
“I got to start all over,” stated Debra Allen, who runs First Ward Living Grace Food Pantry.
She explained, “Twice we’ve given away and we’ve got the men over here.”
In a Pine Bluff city meeting Monday night, Aldermen Ivan Whitfield proposed relocating the food pantry to Fire Station No. 4 on Commerce Road. The building has not housed anyone in over two years and is currently being used for storage.
In Whitfield’s words”We could allow storage to continue, or we could bless our citizens”, but the alderman met resistance from other board members and the fire chief.
“There was not much discussion on my behalf as to what the options were going forward,” stated Pine Bluff Fire Chief Shauwn Howell during the meeting. He added, “There is a fluid situation of how this space is used.”
Pine Bluff Alderwoman Joni Alexander stated multiple times she felt the vote was meaningless due to procedure. She said the planning commission should vote on the issue before the council.
“Maybe this dialogue while they are going to the planning commission some of those churches can step up because that is why they don’t pay taxes,” Alexander suggested.
People using the pantry just want to make sure none of the help they receive would be disrupted.
One Mrs. Watson who uses First Ward Living Grace Food Pantry said other food pantries in Pine Bluff have turned her away because her family lives in the county.
“There have been lots of times I don’t know what I would have done without her (Debra Allen)”, Watson admitted.
The council approved relocating the pantry with a vote of 5 for and 3 against, but there is confusion as to what happens next before the pantry can move. Some alderman and the city attorney said a similar resolution will need to go before the planning commission. Others said the mayor has to sign off on the use of the building.