A dispute over serving up religion with free meals has prompted a group of 40 religious and civic organizations in Hollywood to withdraw sponsorship of a meals program for the homeless at the Salvation Army.
Chip-in withdrew its support after Salvation Army officials took full control of the program that feeds between 200 and 300 meals on weeknights at the Salvation Army community center, 5941 Hollywood Blvd.
Gilbert Kollin, president of Chip-in, said the split was amicable, even though Chip-in started the program two years ago and contributed money and volunteers to the charity effort.
"We did not go away mad," Kollin said. "But our volunteers have not been happy with either the administration of the program or the evangelical religious activities conducted during meals by the Salvation Army."
He noted that Chip-in is a broad-based organization that includes some churches and temples, but also many organizations with no religious affiliation.
"The thing that brought us together was our shared belief that the homeless in Hollywood needed help," said Kollin, rabbi of Temple Beth-El. "We are happy that the Salvation Army will continue feeding the homeless. We now are looking for another, additional way to help the homeless."
Kollin said that each group in Chip-in will decide whether to continue contributing money and food supplies to the program.
Maj. Alfred R. Van Cleef, general secretary of the Southern California Division of the Salvation Army, said that his organization asserted control over the program to end months of confusion over who was running it.
He said Salvation Army jurisdiction was warranted because the program was conducted in Salvation Army facilities, staffed by large numbers of Salvation Army volunteers and financed at least in part with $2,500 monthly in army funds. The program costs an estimated $4,400 a month.
"Our basic position was let us not fight over feeding poor people," Van Cleef said. "We felt that feeding the poor was more important than arguing over who's in charge of the program."
He described the religious component of the program as minimal--a prayer beforehand and "maybe 10 to 15 minutes of sharing the gospel" during the meals.
"I will be candid, most people (gathered for the meals) don't listen," Van Cleef said. "But maybe two or three do and we believe it is important to reach those individuals."
Patricia E. Raley, a Chip-in volunteer, said the group felt that the religious activities interfered with feeding the homeless. She noted that because everyone had to be seated before grace was said, people had to wait to eat.
"We would have preferred a buffet-style, but that would have interfered with the prayer and the sermon during the meal," Raley said. "We felt terrible when people had to be turned away for meals because of limited seating."
She said that volunteers who did not share the evangelical approach propounded by the Salvation Army "were uncomfortable" with the sermons. "To get away from soul-saving, we tried without success to get the Salvation Army to rotate control over religious activities among different churches involved in the program," Raley said.
Volunteers also felt that the nearly $2,000 monthly contributed by churches and agencies connected with Chip-in was not spent efficiently. "Our thrust was to get the most food for our money to feed as many people as possible," Raley said. "We were not convinced that we were getting the most out of the program."
Despite the criticisms, Raley said the volunteers were grateful to the Salvation Army for its participation. "It is not easy finding a place with the required facilities to feed the homeless," she said.
Chip-in would like to find a place to feed people on weekends and to expand the feeding program on weekdays. "Obviously," she said, "one hot meal a day for five days a week is not enough for someone with nothing to eat."
She said that if the group can find facilities in Hollywood, she believes it will also be able find the resources to start a feeding program that will be both "economical and ecumenical."