Woman's club donates building to Bonita Springs charity

Oscar Duarte, left, eats a hot meal provided by Cafe of Life, a charity that regularly serves 150 people outside the Bonita Springs community center daily.  Duarte's been unemployed for two years but has a son he needs to take care of.  Besides the hot meals, he is also able to pick out a few food items to help get him and his family through the week. Many who benefit from the charity are children and mothers as well as the unemployed and homeless.  Cafe of Life continues to battle with the City of Bonita Springs in establishing a permanent location where they can regularly feed 150 people. The charity has been banned from using the community center building during times of bad weather. Michel Fortier/Staff

Photo by MICHEL FORTIER

Oscar Duarte, left, eats a hot meal provided by Cafe of Life, a charity that regularly serves 150 people outside the Bonita Springs community center daily. Duarte's been unemployed for two years but has a son he needs to take care of. Besides the hot meals, he is also able to pick out a few food items to help get him and his family through the week. Many who benefit from the charity are children and mothers as well as the unemployed and homeless. Cafe of Life continues to battle with the City of Bonita Springs in establishing a permanent location where they can regularly feed 150 people. The charity has been banned from using the community center building during times of bad weather. Michel Fortier/Staff

"It's our understanding, that according to the redevelopment district, that it's not permitted as a facility to serve food from," said Bruce Wheatley, vice chairman of the Café of Life board of directors.

"As to whether or not, that is used to serve people there, that decision needs to be made by the city."

If the city allows Café of Life to serve from the Childers Street site, Wheatley said, it would be convenient for them. Until the city makes a decision, though, Café of Life continues to move forward with plans for a neighborhood park on excess county land resulting from the construction of Imperial Parkway.

During Wednesday's City Council meeting, council members briefly discussed not having rules and regulations for soup kitchens defined in the city's land development code. Councilwoman Martha Simons, who is concerned about food being properly cooked and distributed, made a motion to create a moratorium and withdrew the motion.

"We don't have, in my opinion, the proper regulations in place for soup kitchens in the city," Simons said.

Simons said the recently donated site is a much better alternative for having the charity serve food.

"I just think, to have it in a commercial area is more appropriate, than in the residential area," said Simons.

For more than five years, Café of Life, which feeds hungry residents three hours each day, Mondays through Fridays, has been serving free meals under the banyan tree on Old 41 Road. Café of Life had been at other locations, including a church and inside a community center.

Café of Life serves between 22,000 and 24,000 hot lunches per year. Volunteers for Café of Life cook food at home, then deliver it for lunch.

The charity has served 1,000 more meals from the first five months of 2012, an increase from last year during the same period. In May, the charity served an average of 87 meals a day, up from 67 meals per day in May 2011.

Wheatley said mothers and children are 60 percent of their clients, with a large increase in child clients the last three months.

"There is a tremendous need out there," he said.

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