San Jose

Church Pantry in SJ That Feeds Hundreds Forced to Shut Down Over Permit Issue

NBC Universal, Inc.

For the past four days, a church food pantry in San Jose that feeds 1,000 people a day has been forced to shut down because of a city permitting issue.

The farmer’s market-style pantry was closed Wednesday, and people who showed up needing food were turned away.

Typically, six days a week, there would be a long line in front of Lighthouse Ministries Food Pantry in San Jose. A thousand people a day select from fresh and packaged foods on tables and bins at the corner of 17th and Julian streets.

Rocky Mauricio visits the pantry nearly every day.

“It’s helping the community, it's helping me,” he said. "Each time I need groceries they provide it.”

But this week he couldn't get those groceries because the pantry is shut down. Pastor Ralph Olmos said he was forced to shut down the outdoor pantry Saturday after the city sent him a letter telling him to immediately stop operating because he didn't have a special use permit.

“Families are relying on this, especially during the pandemic,” said Olmos. “The idea of permits getting in the way of a pandemic. Every meal feeds three children. That's a lot of people."

Miriam Aldana, a housecleaner who lost her job during the pandemic, said she relies on the food she gets there. So does Judy Soito.

“I can't pay for groceries and my bills. What am I going to do?” she said.

NBC Bay Area reached out to San Jose Planning, Building and Code Enforcement Tuesday to find out why the pantry was asked to shut down.

The city said it was a miscommunication and that the pastor received the wrong notice. Late Tuesday afternoon, the city told pastor Olmos he could start up the pantry again as long as he starts the process to get a special use permit.

The pastor said he's thrilled and plans to reopen the pantry at noon Thursday. Now he faces another obstacle: figuring out how he can come up with the $15,500 needed for a new permit.

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