Blog Archives

HOUSE NEWS: Looking for some regular volunteers; can you help?

Click here to see an entire list of what is happening this week at the Gainesville Catholic Worker.

LOOKING FOR A FEW REGULARS: So much of what we do at the GCW is possible because of our volunteers. And among our volunteers, the ones who really serve as linchpins for our various programs are those who can commit to a regular weekly gig with us. This semester, we could really use several more folks who can commit to a weekly slot (or even a monthly slot) for several of our projects. For the Tuesday Coffee Shop, from 1-3pm, it would be great to have 1-2 regular volunteers each week, even if you can commit only for 1-2pm each week, or 2-3pm each week. For the Wednesday Cafe, we could really use 1-2 weekly volunteers for the late shift to help with closing and clean-up, say between 2-4pm. And for Breakfast Brigade on Friday mornings, we could use a handful of people who could maybe commit to being scheduled for one Friday a month, like every first Friday, or third Friday, etc. (We especially need some more guys to act as regulars for Brigade.) If you can commit to a regular gig with us, it would be a great help. Let us know!

NEEDS FOR THIS WEEK: We especially need some help with Breakfast Brigade this week. We’re short about 4 volunteers so far. Let us know if you can help out!

FIRST MICRO-FARM MONTHLY WORKDAY IS A SUCCESS: Thanks to a great response, a whole bunch was accomplished at the micro-farm this past Saturday. We had Barbara from last year’s JustFaith group join us, Bob U. (our retired prof), four students from Eastside High School (Zac, Eric, Andrew and my son Johnny), loyal Brigader Tim, former house member Daniel, current house member Vickie, plus Lynn, Jade and Maya (with me dropping in intermittently!). New beds were dug and framed, land cleared, other beds were weeded, etc. We’ve been getting onions, cabbage, kohlrabi, radishes and more from the micro-farm to use at the cafe and share with our friends and guests. Mark down March 10th for our next workday and join us if you can. See the photos Lynn took below…

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SCRIPTURE STUDY AT HOLY FAITH: If you’re looking for a good way to prepare for the Lenten season, Johnny will be presenting a talk at Holy Faith Catholic Church (747 NW 43rd Street) on Saturday from 9:30am to noon. We’ll be exploring the Sunday readings for Lent to get a better sense of everything that led to that Good Friday long, long ago. All are welcome. And if you’re looking for some reflections from our regular Monday Scripture study on Matthew’s gospel, click here to see the latest entries.

Hope to see you this week!

HOUSE NEWS: Knitters of the world unite! And football game Saturday!

To see all of what’s happening this week, click here.

GREEN HOUSE KNITTERS UNITE! The Green House Knitters will start meeting on Mondays again, beginning this week, at 7:30pm. Come learn how to knit, work on a project, and enjoy the company!

ART FOR ALL: First Art for All gathering is this Saturday, from 1-4pm! Come and make beautiful art or work on crafts projects under the guidance of one of our local artists.

HELP WITH THE UF-UT GAME THIS WEEKEND? On select Saturdays this fall, we’ll be showing the Gator game for our friends who would otherwise not have a place to watch it. We’re still looking for a group of folks to help provide some “party food” for this week’s game, UF vs Tennessee, which is at 3:30pm on Saturday. We also always welcome help with set-up (3pm) and clean-up (around 6:30pm). If you or your group can provide any food or drink, or if you can join us, email John at And everyone is welcome to come and join us in watching the game!

As always, let us know if you can help out with Breakfast Brigade or Cafe this week and we’ll put you on the schedule. Thanks!

HOUSE NEWS: What Have We Here?

For a complete schedule of activities at the Green House this week, please click here.

We are excited this week to welcome back Scott Robertson to Thursday’s Roundtable and Potluck, 6-7:30.  As a follow-up to our discussion about the various benefits of and barriers to community sustainability, join us for a brainstorming session on how we might make small changes that create greater waves. We will consider how we can mirror the patterns of nature in our own lives and community. As a project in local abundance, we will inventory our varied talents, shareable assets, and blocks of free time– with this we can start a local network to buffer against emergencies, reduce our consumption of resources, and get to know each other better. If you have any interest at all, please come! Mimicking nature, the more diversity in our community, the greater our stability.

ACTION: Gainesville Community Response to the Qu’ran Book-Burning

PLEASE NOTE: I made a mistake on the original post regarding the date of the event at Trinity United Methodist Church. It is on FRIDAY evening!

We are dismayed at the publicity a tiny “church” in our city has received for their misguided antics. They have fifty individuals on their rolls and fewer than 30 members attending on any given Sunday, yet the Wall Street Journal described them as a “mega-church,” and similar articles have fueled worldwide concern and protest.

We encourage folks NOT to protest the planned book burning on the church grounds, but to attend alternative gatherings offered this weekend – a very family-friendly “Gathering for Peace, Understanding, and Hope” on FRIDAY at Trinity Methodist Church, and “A Day of Peace and Unity” sponsored by the Gainesville Muslim Initiative at the Downtown Plaza (see below for details).

Maybe there will be enough of us at these peaceful, productive gatherings to lure the press in a better direction.

A Gathering for Peace, Understanding and Hope

Friday, September 10, 6:00 – 9:00 p.m.
@Trinity United Methodist Church, 4000 NW 53rd Avenue, on 53rd Avenue next to 43rd St.
Hosted by the Gainesville Interfaith Forum
The Trinity United Methodist Church along with the support of the Gainesville Interfaith Forum, will be hosting a Gathering for Peace, Understanding and Hope. We will have activities for children of our different faiths to play together, arts and educational crafts, cultural displays, foods from various regions of the world, and a time of prayer.

Candlelight Vigil for Peace and Unity hosted by Gainesville Muslim Initiative

Make a stand for peace and unity between the different religions, cultures and ethnic groups that make up the fabric of the American society. We believe in the right of people to be different, and we believe in the right of people to be respected for their difference. Why should we focus on our differences while there is so much we can do together to overcome our challenges as the human race? Let us all make a stand together for charity by feeding the homeless , for compassion by donating blood, and for tolerance by lighting a candle .

Program: Saturday, September 11, Downtown Plaza

5:00 to 6:00 pm:
Project Downtown Gainesville will be feeding the homeless. Food will be provided by local families but if you want to help setting up the tables and serving the plates, please come by 4:30 pm.

5:00 to 7:00 pm:
Blood Drive: Help save a life by donating blood and encouraging your friends to do the same. Life South will be present at the event with two buses. Our local hospitals are in dire need of blood and our objective for the evening will be 60 donors.

Book Drive: When books are being burnt, knowledge is being lost. In this day and age, we should be expanding our knowledge or at least preserving it. The Gainesville Public Library, will be present at the event with a wish list of books. Please stop by their booth and contribute however much you can to fulfill their need. Also, if you have a collection of books that you would like to donate they will be more than willing to have it.

Food Drive: Feeding the homeless one meal is a good thing, but making sure that that a system is in place for them when they will need another meal is even better. We will be collecting non perishable food items during the whole event. Everything collected will be given to local charities that provide weekly meals to the homeless people.

7:00 pm: National Anthem

7:05 to 8:00 pm: Brief declaration by community leaders

8:00 to 8:15 pm: Candlelight Vigil

8:15 to 8:16 pm: One minute of silence will be observed

8:16 to 9:00 pm: Resume the blood, book and food drives

HOUSE NEWS: Roundtable on “Personality and the Enneagram,” and the rest of this week

For more information on what’s happening this week at the Green House, please click here.

Last week was busy and fun – well-attended Cafe featuring an abundance of good, local food including twice-baked potatoes, greens, and an almost entirely local salad; Tuesday’s Coffee house with tables moved around a roaring fire; a freezing, rainy Breakfast Brigade where shivering people waiting on the dwindling hope of work for the day were kind and gracious to our volunteers bearing a candle and hot breakfast.  Thursday’s “Ladies Only” Coffee House is still not well attended; we’ll give it a bit, talk to some more folks, and see if we need to change plans in March.

This Thursday is our monthly roundtable where we welcome a speaker who can get us started on discussions regarding current events and other challenging subjects.  In a world where people seem less and less able and willing to listen to one another, understanding where we are “coming from” seems a particularly useful skill. Gloria and Dave Chynoweth learned about the enneagram from Fr. Richard Rohr and will be sharing some of their insights on Thursday between 6 and 7:30 over dinner. Please bring something to share if you can.  But if not, come anyway.

Have a good week. Hope to see you!

Kelli and John

HOUSE NEWS: Tonight’s City Commision Meeting and Rally for Homeless Rights – a Message from Jim Wright

Dear All: 
I encourage everyone to attend the special City Commission Commission meeting this Thursday night at 6:00 pm in the City Hall Auditorium.  Attached is the agenda for the meeting.  As you can see from the agenda, the rezoning petition for the proposed Homeless One Stop Center is the only item of business, so there will be no useless waiting while other items are discussed.  If you want a seat in the main auditorium you will need to get there early, as attendance is expected to exceed capacity.  I have heard that the overflow audience will be seated in another room with closed circuit TV.  Even if you are seated in the overflow room I believe you will have the opportunity to be heard if you want to speak to the proposal.
ACCHH strongly supports the recommendations being made to the Commission by the Plan Board and City Staff.  A key component of that recommendation is that the restrictions on potential future use of the site as a shelter and food preparation site be removed.  Thus, if the recommendation of the Plan Board is adopted then there is the potential to use that site in the future to develop additional emergency and transitional shelter capacity, which as we all know is badly needed in Gainesville.
If you cannot attend the meeting I encourage you to communicate with the City Commission by phone or e-mail and encourage them to support the Plan Board’s recommendation, specifically including the removal of the restriction on shelter beds.
I also remind you that there will be a rally in support of homeless rights and services at 5:00 pm in front of City Hall.
The rally and City Commission meeting will be high profile events with strong opinions and emotions involved.  I ask you to represent the Coalition well by expressing yourself both honestly and truthfully, but also with respect toward those who hold opinions that differ from yours.
Thanks, Jim.
Jim Wright, Director
Alachua County Coalition for the Homeless and Hungry, Inc.
P.O. Box 5494
Gainesville, FL  32627-5494
phone (352) 378-0460 
fax (352) 373-4097

ROUNDTABLE: “We don’t want to give food to the hungry.”

Disturbing, but that was the understanding we came away with after last Thursday’s roundtable discussion led by Joe Jackson.  Joe is a professor at the UF Law School and regularly offers his services to homeless folks as well as to those who try to help them. 

Joe gave an overview of his understanding of poverty and homelessness and how it has changed over time as he has gotten to know people dealing with these issues. His growing understanding of homelessness and his friendship with homeless people led him to become involved first with the committee tasked with finding a location for a “safe space” shelter (none was ever found that met with community approval) and later with the HOME Van (Homeless Outreach Mobile Effort). Most recently he helped bring a suit against the city for discrimination when it tried to close down the “Fire of God” church based on its membership – primarily poor folks.  He is currently involved with a series of city commission meetings where the commission is being asked to restrict churches from serving the “needy.”

Megan, a UF student, brought up the question of how we define the needy.  Are poor students on financial aid needy? Or is it the way people dress?  Where they live?  And this seems to point to the concern behind the concerns.  What is the real problem with serving a meal to a hungry person – or to many hungry people if there are a lot out there?  Or with offering shelter to someone who has no place to sleep or come out of the rain or cold?

Downtown business people and homeowners associations carry a lot of clout with the commission. But however they dress it up, the main concern is neither with a church’s ability to adequately care for needy people nor with public safety of downtown shoppers and nightclub frequenters or families living near neighborhood churches.  Churches and religious groups have done a good job of stepping up and filling in when the city started restricting services at St. Francis House – our city’s homeless shelter.  And there are laws on the books to protect people and property from individuals who are disruptive, dishonest, or dangerous.  The fact that downtown bars that encourage irresponsible drinking and the dangers  (and annoyances) that accompany it – drunk driving, brawls, public urination, littering, and other irresponsible and harmful behaviors — operate with little interference from the city, lays the lie to the public safety concern of many of the people who are complaining the loudest about churches. 

The bottom line seems to be… the bottom line.  Business owners are concerned about the down and out detracting from downtown’s ambience, and homeowners are worried about property values.  It’s money.

And it’s us.  If you repeat something often enough, people begin to believe it.  “Most homeless people are ‘transient vagrants’ who choose to live that way;” “Downtown is dangerous because of all the ‘homeless people;’” “If you feed them, you just encourage them to stay around here rather than moving on.”  All these statements smack of bigotry and recall times past when it was common for white people to make assumptions about black people and their presence affecting property values and “our” lifestyle.  

If we made the effort to get to know people, we would know – like Joe – that homeless and hungry folks are pretty much like “us.”  They’re a mixed bag of people trying their best to cope with the hardships in their lives. People living on the streets have suffered almost insurmountable hardships: debilitating mental or physical illness, abuse, addiction, poverty, unemployment and other human failings and vulnerabilities.  What should the attitude of those of us who are getting by be toward our neighbors who are struggling?  Shun them? Send them packing? Keep chasing them out of the “safe spaces” they’ve found on their own? Make it illegal for folks who want to help to be able to do so?  Some community.

It’s as wrong to treat the poor and “needy” as second class citizens as it is to treat someone with a different skin tone that way.  We can do better – as individuals and as a city.

The next city commission meeting dealing with this issue was postponed.  Stay posted for the new time.  Joe said it would make a difference to the city commission if many of us attended. For our part, we can show up being as passionate about the well-being of our brothers and sisters as we are about our bank accounts. 


OPINION: City May Try to Restrict Churches from Serving the Poor

As many of you know, issues around providing care to homeless people in our community are being brought constantly to the city commission. St. Francis House, our local homeless shelter, received flack for years about the “undesirables” that were attracted downtown because they were offered help there. Restrictions were enforced, and SFH began limiting the number of people who were served.  Next, a “one-stop center” was proposed and approved as a way to care for those restricted from SFH, but no one wanted the center near them, and it took a while to find a place (and now to get funding). Churches stepped up to fill the gap (and respond to their calling to be “good news to the poor”) by opening their doors to people in need – offering friendship, food, and sometimes shelter.  And now that is being threatened.  

Currently on the agenda for the city commission is discussion on how to limit, and sometimes restrict, churches from offering food and shelter to the poor and/or homeless. Donna Lawson, director of the Interfaith Hospitality Network – an organization that assists churches in offering food and temporary housing to homeless families – has attended recent commission meetings and gives a synopsis in a letter she wrote (below). She also offers a very compelling analysis of the attitude that allows this to happen (in bold).   

Hello everyone –

The Community Development Committee meeting went quite badly last night. It is obvious that City Staff and Commissioners are intent upon placing additional restrictions on congregations, both as regards to lot size as well as feeding hungry persons and sheltering homeless persons. The meeting ended without Commissioners Henry, Lowe and Donovan voting on all issues raised. Indeed, after four hours of meeting, we didn’t even finish the discussion about shelter provision, nor did we discuss the issue of feeding hungry persons. Here are notes on the discussions, action taken, and direction City Staff are moving Commissioners toward.

1. Lot Size – Commissioners tentatively settled on the following required lot sizes for congregations building in RSF districts:

Building capacity of 100 – 1.0 acre
Building capacity of 150 – 1.5 acres
Building capacity of 200 – 2.0 acres
Building capacity of 250 – 2.5 acres
Increasing by .5 acres for every 50 persons

This is a requirement for larger lot size than is currently in Code. It should be noted that, according to City Staff data, there are currently 21 congregations in the City on lot sizes smaller than 1 acre. All but three of these are in Single Family Districts. All but six of these are on the East side of town. Restrictions as envisioned by Commissioners at this meeting will hurt the ability of small congregations wishing to develop, e.g., those with memberships of less than 100. Though City staff repeatedly assured the audience that the new restrictions would not hurt existing congregations in their ability to renovate their current buildings, there was disagreement among City staff about the process and whether or not congregations would be forced to obtain special permissions/permits for certain renovations.

2. Sheltering Homeless Persons – (Except where noted, sheltering restrictions apply across the City, not just in RSF Districts.) Discussion got bogged down, as Commissioners tried to anticipate all possible problems and issues that could arise and that could be legislated. It appears that Commissioners may place congregations sheltering on a temporary basis – such as IHN-participating congregations – in a separate category than congregations wishing to shelter on a more permanent basis. However discussion ended for the night with no vote on the issues. Commissioners did begin discussing creating additional restrictions for congregations wishing to house people on a “permanent” basis. For example, they discussed the possibility of allowing congregations sheltering on a permanent basis to shelter only 3 families or 3 unrelated persons, rather than the maximum of twenty people currently allowed in the code. City staff recommended that restrictions on hours of operation be removed for congregation-based shelter activities. They also removed from their recommendations the restriction for “compatability with the neighborhood in RSF districts,” because they are recommending to Commissioners that all sheltering taking place inside (i.e., congregations could not allow persons to sleep in tents on congregation property).There was no discussion of the requirement that congregations obtain a permit for sheltering homeless persons. Commissioner Donovan has requested that this issue be addressed before the Ordinance is returned to the Commission.

3. Food Distribution to the Needy – (Except where noted, restrictions on food distribution apply across the City, not just in RSF Districts.) Commissioners did not yet discuss this issue. Back-up documentation provided indicates that City staff have revised their recommendations and are now recommending that hours of operation be restricted to 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Similar to shelter activities, if food distribution takes place indoors there would be no “compatability requirements” in RSF districts. If food distribution takes place outdoors, there would be compatability requirements in RSF districts.Staff have not re-addressed the following issues: limit of 20 meals served/day, quarter-mile separation between congregations providing food, no-feed zone around the University. Back-up documentation indicates that they want time to survey other communities.What was most discouraging about the meeting was its tenor. The meeting began with the discussion of lot size for congregations, which only affects Residential Single Family Districts. Numerous members of several neighborhood groups were present at the CDC meeting to argue in support of restrictions. There seemed to be general consensus – including among Commissioners – that the presence of a congregation in a neighborhood portends problems due to increased traffic, traffic throughout the day as a congregation grows, lighting, and so on. There was also the insinuation from the audience that congregations will withhold information or give false information about congregation size or plans for growth in order to worm their way into a neighborhood or to obtain permits, etc. There was no disavowal of this statement by Commissioners.

Additionally, as the discussion moved toward sheltering and feeding, the discussion shifted to the effect of housing “those people” in a church, with statements that homeless persons come with so many problems that there must laws in place to protect congregations from themselves or the community from congregation efforts to help too many homeless persons at one time.I was ashamed of my community last night, at least the members who think they can and should legislate against all “possible potential problems” that might occur when people of faith show compassion to the poor and needy among us. I brought up the fact that we allow laws already on the books to regulate behavior such as that which occurs downtown each weekend.

Though police officers report that there are shootings and stabbings every weekend in downtown Gainesville, related to the bar activity, we do not shut down bars on weekends to prevent people from shooting or stabbing each other. Additionally, bars and restaurants downtown are allowed to serve hundreds of people, and to serve until late into the evening. Yet in an attempt to prevent whatever behavior they believe will be exhibited at churches by hungry and homeless persons, Commissioners and City staff want to allow only a very few of each to be served by congregations. Though a bar can serve 100 people up until 2:0 0 a.m., the church next door can provide food to only 20 hungry people and must stop doing so by 8:00 p.m. Though several bars in the same block can serve 100 people each, two churches next door to each other cannot both feed hungry people. There’s something really, really wrong with this. Personally I think the issue is money – people who patronize bars and restaurants spend money; people who own bars and restaurants make money. Hungry and homeless people do not have money and therefore do not have influence.

I urge all of you to attend the next meeting of the Community Development Committee. It will be held next Thursday, March 6th, at 6:00 p.m., in room 17 City Hall. Commissioners plan to wrap up their discussion of this issue so they may send the Ordinance back to the City Commission as soon as possible. At the meeting last night, neighborhood defenders outnumbered the few members of congregations who were present to argue for the right – and responsibility – of congregations to engage in ministries without City-imposed constraints. I believe that it is important for congregation members and pastors to speak up, to demonstrate that this is our community as well, and we wish to help our needy brothers and sisters without restriction by unnecessary City rules.
I will be sending out additional information regarding the congregational feeding and sheltering that currently exists – without problems reported – within the next few days. If you wish to express your thoughts to Commissioners via e-mail as well as in attendance at the next meeting, I have included Commissioner e-mail addresses below.
(Craig Lowwe),
(Rick Bryant),
(Pegeen Hanrahan),
(Scherwin Henry),
(Comm Jack Donovan),
(Jeanna Mastrodicasa),
(Ed Braddy),

Donna Watson Lawson
Executive Director
Interfaith Hospitality Network
of Greater Gainesville
P.O. Box 880
Gainesville, FL 32602
352-378-2720 fax

UPDATE: Lent with the GCW, Gainesville’s African American History, Living Locally


The season of Lent, a time for reflection, repentance, prayer, and almsgiving, begins on Wednesday.   Over the past seven years, some folks who have made it part of their Lenten discipline to become more involved in some of the activities here at the House.  If you’re interested, here are some ways to plug in.  See the WEEKLY CALENDAR for details:

Pray with us at Wednesday Morning Prayer – 7:00 – 7:30 am at the House.

Sponsor or help out at a Breakfast Brigade – Tuesdays and Fridays, 4:15am – 7am; Serve a healthy, tasty breakfast to hungry folks at the day labor pools. Or buy breakfast – we serve up to 200 people/week for about $200.

Volunteer at a Café – First three Sundays of the month; Make the soup, learn to bake the bread, serve, eat, and/or clean up.

Participate in Scripture Study – Tuesday nights 6-7:30 (or so); join us for a simple meal and a provocative look at the Sermon on the Mount.  To catch up on last week’s study, click here.

Join us at the Roundtable – Thursdays, 6-7:30pm; each week we share a potluck dinner while a guest speaker leads us in a discussion on a current economic, political, religious, or cultural issue.  This week,Joel Buchanan, one of the three students who integrated Gainesville High in 1964 and a prominent voice in Gainesville’s African-American community, will talk about Gainesville’s African-American History and his own own recollections. Future roundtable guests and topics will be posted here

Get a copy of the Pax Christi Lent Booklet: Johnny is one of a handful of authors featured in a Lenten reflection booklet from Pax Christi USA, Invited to Transformation: Reflections for Lent 2008. We have about 30 copies available at the GCW House for anyone who is interested in using it as a resource for reflection and prayer during the Lenten season. You can email Johnny ( or pick up a copy at the house anytime for free or feel free to make a donation which will go back into supporting the GCW house.

Take Part in the Good Friday “Way of the Cross” – Friday, March 21.  The Way of the Cross is an ancient tradition. Join us as we make our way through downtown Gainesville and reflect on how Christ continues to be crucified among us in the poor and marginalized in our community. 

Commit to Learning to Live More Locally – Since the beginning, we’ve considered it a main mission of the Gainesville Catholic Worker to “live locally.”  We try to buy the food we use and serve directly from local farmers or – when impossible –  from Ward’s, a local grocery store that often buys directly from local growers.  And we try to be conscious of how what we consume – food, entertainment, energy, clothing, etc. – affects our brothers and sisters.   During Lent, we are going to try to be more intentional and invite you to struggle along with us, and weigh in when you can, on how to live locally in Gainesville.  We’ll write about our family’s attempts, failures, education – and hopefully progress – HERE.