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Woman Cites Freedom of Religion to Feed Homeless

PHOTO: A San Antonio chef has been feeding the area's homeless for over a decade, but police recently gave her ticket with a potential fine of $2,000 for allegedly violating a city ordinance. She plans to contest it, citing freedom of religion. Photo credit: Matthew Woitunski/Wikimedia Commons.
PHOTO: A San Antonio chef has been feeding the area's homeless for over a decade, but police recently gave her ticket with a potential fine of $2,000 for allegedly violating a city ordinance. She plans to contest it, citing freedom of religion. Photo credit: Matthew Woitunski/Wikimedia Commons.
April 21, 2015

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Joan Cheever has been serving restaurant-quality food to San Antonio's homeless and poor every Tuesday since 2005, but in early April she was served with a $2,000 citation for allegedly breaking a city ordinance – serving food from a vehicle not licensed as a food truck.

When the officer handed her the ticket, Cheever, who has a law degree from St. Mary's University, says she told him he was on the wrong side of two federal laws: a court order out of Dallas and a Texas law protecting her freedom of religion.

"He said, 'Lady, if you want to pray, go to church,'" she says. "I responded, 'Officer, this is the way I pray. I pray while I cook, I pray when I serve and this is my prayer.'"

Cheever says her nonprofit, The Chow Train, feeds between 25 and 75 people every week at Maverick Park near San Antonio's River Walk and business district. She says the citation won't stop her, and she plans to serve food again tonight and every week until she contests the ticket in court in June.

The officer who wrote the ticket told her she could only serve food from her licensed food truck. According to Cheever, pizza and sandwich shops deliver food in regular vehicles all the time. She thinks the citation is part of a growing effort to move the city's homeless away from tourists downtown.

"The Bible says, 'When I was hungry, you fed me.' You can't do that in San Antonio anymore, but that's not the San Antonio that I know," she says. "I grew up here, and we take care of our neighbor. We always have and we always will, ordinance or no ordinance."

In 2011, five days after a tornado in Joplin, Missouri, killed 161 people, Cheever traveled to the disaster site and served three meals a day to survivors, first responders and members of law enforcement. She also fed residents and volunteers on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Isaac, and in Brooklyn after Hurricane Sandy.

Cheever received a culinary degree from St. Philips College.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - TX