ORANGE — City officials say they hope to move the free food program at W.O. Hart Park to a temporary home on city-owned property by the end of January.
An ad hoc committee has been searching since summer for a new site for the program, which is run by Mary McAnena, an 89-year-old widow who provides free meals five days a week.
In August, the City Council, in an effort to move McAnena from the park, voted to make groups of 25 or more people who wish to use the park apply for a permit that could be used only once a week.
The temporary site is in part of a city corporation yard for heavy maintenance vehicles near the intersection of Struck Avenue and Batavia Street.
Committee members decided to settle on a temporary site when they were unable to find a more permanent home for McAnena's program. The city yard seemed like the best choice because it is not located in a residential neighborhood, said Jane Owens, a city spokeswoman.
"The first priority is to relocate the site and then continue to search for an ideal site," Owens said.
Committee members say they do not envision the storage yard as a long-term home for McAnena's program, which feeds about 200 Orange County residents a day, because they say they would like to find a site where they can expand and offer other services to the homeless.
"We want a long-term solution so that we can do counseling and job placement," said Scott Mather, a resource director with the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Orange who is also a member of the ad hoc committee. "But I don't think anyone wants the city to be the answer."
Committee members plan to present their findings to the City Council on Jan. 12 and then, if they get a positive response, seek a conditional-use permit for the site at the Jan. 18 meeting of the Planning Commission, Owens said.
The ad hoc committee, which includes such city officials as Mayor Gene Beyer, hopes to fund the move to the corporation yard with Redevelopment Agency funds since the lot is located in a redevelopment project area.
Owens estimated that it would cost more than $30,000 to prepare the site for use by McAnena, which includes installing water and sewer connections and renting portable toilets.
The City Council voted to remove McAnena's program from Hart Park after residents complained that it was attracting petty criminals and drug addicts to the area and making it impossible for families to use the park.
The corporation yard "was the only way to get the problem solved at this time," Beyer said. "The idea is to give relief to people in the neighborhood where it's been."
McAnena said Wednesday she could not comment about the proposed site because she has yet to visit it. But Al Ravera, an Orange resident who represents McAnena on the ad hoc committee, said he was prepared to recommend use of the corporation yard for the feeding program.
"I think it's the best we could do at this time," Ravera said. "Our only concern from 'Mary's Kitchen' standpoint is that it not become a permanent site. Sometimes things like that happen."