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Food bank booted over zoning ordinances

Charity and the law don’t always mix. Jan Codd, a retired Merced nurse, realized this after a food bank she was running out of her garage got shut down.

While she has no beef with the city codes and county environmental health rules that took down her operation, Codd’s concerns lie with the people she used to serve.

About 100 people used to drop by her garage for canned goods, cereals, soups and other nonperishable items. The food comes from a salvage center in Turlock that donates outdated or overstock grocery store items still in good condition.

There were no strings attached to pick them up from Codd’s home — no paperwork hoops to jump through, she said. Some people didn’t qualify for government food aid, some did but it wasn’t enough, some are homeless and some are from the addiction recovery ministry Codd also works with. “People who are down and out,” she said. “There is such a need, the saddest stories. ... There are so many people who are hurting.”

Now she wants to find a place to continue her food bank — legally.

She is looking for a warehouse to distribute her goods, somewhere in a commercial area away from residential neighbors.

Codd started distributing food about four years ago from her home in Atwater with the help of Coulterville residents Roger and Elizabeth Robertson. The Robertsons started various food banks about 10 years ago and invited Codd to start one in her area.

Codd moved to the Yosemite and Paulson area of Merced two years ago and continued distributing food from her garage. There were no set times for people to drop by, making food pick-ups more convenient.

Karen Callahan, who works with the food ministry at Calvary Temple Pentecostal Church, would send people to Codd’s house when they couldn’t make it to the church’s distribution times.

But all of this wasn’t well received by neighbors. They became concerned with the constant coming and going of people by foot, bus and car. “Their big thing was traffic,” Robertson said. “If people don’t understand what you are doing, they think it’s a drug house.”

He said he understood and might have thought the same thing in the neighbors’ position. Codd agreed.

Neighbors made complaints to the city and county around November and again about three weeks ago.

Codd then got a visit from the Merced County Department Division of Environmental Health, which shut her down.

There were a couple of issues at hand, say city and county officials.

Usually a food bank is part of a church or in a commercial zone, said Mark Hamilton, a Merced city planner. The problem was that the food bank was run in a residential area, and Merced’s home occupation license prohibits traffic that’s not for residential use.

The county had problems with the situation from a health regulations standpoint, said Katie Albertson, county spokeswoman. A July 2007 food law states that nonperishables can be given out of a home, as long as they haven’t expired.

But some of Codd’s items were past their “use by” date.

Codd was sad to see her set-up shut down, but understood the county’s position. “They were wonderful to deal with,” she said. “I could tell they felt bad.”

However, that still left her with food to distribute, but no where to distribute it from. She called on her friend Callahan, who she had met at Celebrate Recovery, an addiction recovery ministry Codd councils for at Yosemite Church.

She now travels around to deliver her items to Callahan’s food ministry at Calvary Temple, the Merced Rescue Mission and House of Prayer.

Some of her regulars go to these places to get food. But others don’t. “You have to build a reputation, a friendship,” she said. “Some people don’t feel comfortable saying ‘I need cereal.’ ”Callahan wants Codd’s food bank to again resume practice. She hopes someone might be able to donate warehouse space where food can be distributed legally to the needy. “Poverty’s a horrible place to be,” Callahan said. “It’s hard to ask for help. So when it’s already there — it’s easier.”