Community, SJ leaders push to cover permit fee for neighborhood food pantry

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- In the South Bay, there's a collective push to help a neighborhood food pantry in San Jose.

Lighthouse Ministries in the city's Northside Neighborhood was recently warned it needed a special-use permit to continue providing free groceries to the community.

This week, we'll learn whether a proposal by two city leaders to waive fees or cover costs for the critical resource will keep it open.

On Monday afternoon, and similar to most days, Lighthouse Ministries on North 17th Street served area residents. ABC7 News saw dozens of people stopping for free food, fresh fruits, vegetables, hot meals and more. The goods were picked out by those needing extra support during the ongoing pandemic.

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"They helped me when things got real tight," Anthony Barbarossa said.

Barbarossa is considered a "regular." He's one of a thousand people who rely on the food pantry daily, since it opened doors and set up an outdoor makeshift market one year ago.

However, a recent complaint to the City of San Jose threatened to shut down the operation.

According to the city, a complaint filed in January 2022 cited traffic and pedestrian impacts at the location and surrounding neighborhood, which resulted in a temporary closure of the pantry and community distribution events.

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"To have this outside the front-end of this sidewalk, we couldn't have these canopies and these tables," Lighthouse Ministries CEO Pastor Ralph Olmos told ABC7 News. "And also, I guess somebody had called for a parking issue."

Because of the complaint, Pastor Olmos was warned about special-use permitting fees, and was faced with a price tag of $15,000 and a deadline of mid-February.

"Isn't there any common sense or any type of compassion? You know, why are we playing this little permit game during a pandemic," Pastor Olmos questioned.

It's a move that could potentially put a stop to the small operation that has had a huge impact on residents.

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"A major impact on my family and my children," resident Alice Geraci said. "They count on this. They really count on this."

Through an online GoFundMe campaign, the community raised more than enough money to meet Lighthouse Ministries' permitting costs. However, questions remain about future fees.

Recently, Mayor Sam Liccardo and Councilman Raul Peralez proposed waiving special-use permitting fees, or finding funding to cover costs during the pandemic.

"For small organizations- nonprofits like this- those fees can be pretty exorbitant," Councilman Peralez told ABC7 News. "And so we want to make sure that organizations like this aren't put out of business because of these fees."

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In the future, Peralez said he wants to look for a more permanent way to do the same, post-pandemic.

"Looking longer term, because we're not going to continually be under an Emergency Order or declaration of the pandemic- at some point, the fees could come back up," Peralez continued. "We want to look at a more permanent opportunity, where we could either reduce or waive the fees completely for Lighthouse Ministries and other organizations like them."

The Rules Committee will hear Mayor Liccardo's and Councilmember Peralez's proposal on Wednesday.

"If we get a response from city staff that we can move forward with our direction, and the Rules Committee supports it, we may not have to do anything else," he explained. "I'm hopeful that our colleagues will support this and I believe that they will this is a good ask a great cause."

Pastor Olmos explained, "If it doesn't pass, our closure date is Feb. 14 - Valentine's Day. And that's kind of- I don't know how ironic that could be, but that's gonna hurt."

"If everything is waived and the money is still there, I'm gonna change this whole front-end right here to provide a setup for them," he told ABC7 News. "So that even when the underserved come, they get that same dignity of being served just like everybody else."

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