Court prevents city from closing Norwich soup kitchen during appeal

Richard Garino, right, of Ledyard, a volunteer chef at the St. Vincent de Paul Place in Norwich, works with Peter Gill, of Middlefield, a part-time staff chef and also a deacon, on Monday to prepare breakfast. A U.S. District Court judge issued an order Monday that prevents Norwich from halting operations at the soup kitchen, located in the former St. Joseph School.

Norwich - A U.S. District Court judge in Bridgeport issued an order Monday that prevents the city from halting operations of the St. Vincent de Paul Place at the former St. Joseph School - just as the soup kitchen and food pantry faced the expiration of its six-month temporary permit.

The decision means the program that provides meals for needy people can continue to operate at least until the last week of February, when Judge Warren W. Eginton will hold hearings on an injunction request to allow the soup kitchen to operate during its appeal of the city's permit denial.

The soup kitchen operated normally Monday, with patrons arriving for breakfast and lunch.

Since the hearings were scheduled for six weeks after the temporary permit expired, city officials had planned to enforce the closure based on the Commission on the City Plan's ruling denying permanent permits for the facility. St. Vincent in July received a six-month temporary building permit for the first-floor food pantry after the state building official approved a six-month waiver of state law that the pantry must be handicapped accessible.

The city also at the time issued a temporary certificate of occupancy for the facility, which also expired Monday. A permanent certificate of occupancy cannot be granted with the special permit denial.

Eginton, however, said the city still has the right to issue notices of violation, but cannot shut down operations. He also said the soup kitchen has the right to request a continuance of Monday's order at the conclusion of the Feb. 25-26 hearings.

City officials did not issue violation letters Monday.

The Commission on the City Plan on Dec. 18 denied permits for the soup kitchen, agreeing with neighbors who testified that it already was a detriment to the neighborhood. Residents cited trespassing, littering and foul language by soup kitchen patrons.

Jillian Corbin, St. Vincent executive director, said the need for the facility has never been in question.

"I definitely think we all - the neighbors, we and the city - understand the importance of feeding people," Corbin said.

As the controversy surrounding the soup kitchen works its way through court in February, St. Joseph's popular Lenten Friday night fish dinners come into question. Corbin said she will have a planning meeting with parish representatives soon on the fish dinner fundraisers, which are scheduled to begin Feb. 15, the first Friday of Lent.

"We want to continue that tradition," Corbin said.


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