Lakeland group ordered to stop church, food giveaways in park

Mad Hatter has been meeting in Munn Park 4 years
Posted at 6:14 PM, Jan 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-16 18:14:25-05

Robert Burke lives on the streets of Lakeland. He never knows when he'll get a shower, much less a hot meal or shelter.

"I've on slept on the sidewalks. I've slept here and there," said Burke.

So when groups like the Mad Hatter show up in Munn Park downtown each week with a church sermon and lunch, it doesn't go unnoticed.

"We want to connect with the heart of Lakeland," said Michelle Maynard with the Mad Hatter of Lakeland.

"It is well appreciated by the homeless people in this area," said Burke.

But the Mad Hatter s now being told by the city of Lakeland to stop its park ministry.

"We're just like why--why aren't we allowed to help?  Why can't we have our service here?" said Kimberlea Smith with the Mad Hatter of Lakeland.

The city says it's gotten complaints from neighboring businesses and people who use the park about crowds of homeless people and trash.  It also says there's an ordinance banning food hand outs in city parks.

"We're not bothering anybody.  We're not saying, 'Hey come over here.' We're just sitting her doing our thing.  People walk up and join or they just walk by," Smith said.

The Mad Hatter's still planning to continue its work and hopes it doesn't get punished like a Tampa group, Food Not Bombs, recently did, with members being hauled off in handcuffs.

"We bring our children to these services.  We don't want them to witness any police drama like that," said Maynard.

The city insists that's not the plan and hopes it can work with the mad hatter on making their park ministry legal.

"There's got to be a solution somewhere in the middle that will make both sides happy," Maynard said.