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Friday, September 29, 2023

As a great-great-grandson of a secretary of war, grandson of the drafter of the Nagasaki bombings and son of a minuteman missile operator, Keith McHenry, 54, has deep roots in American war history.

With a namesake entrenched in U.S. military conflict, he feels compelled to walk another path. He is an international peace activist.

He was one of several members of The Coalition to End the Meal Limit NOW! who rallied Wednesday afternoon at the farmers market in Bo Diddley Plaza in downtown Gainesville.

"I feel like I have a responsibility to return America to a democracy, if it ever was one," McHenry explained during a recent presentation at the Civic Media Center.

The coalition is a collective initiative to get the 130-meal limit at St. Francis House. The coalition is proposing to change the cap to a three-hour block of time in which meals can be served.

Local supporters marched to the Paradigm Properties offices on Main Street Wednesday to protest what Nathan Collier, owner of parent company Collier Companies, has chosen to be his public stance on feeding the homeless in the downtown area.

The coalition and other citizens said they are upset over an email Collier sent to the City Commission in March with the subject line, "PLEASE keep Downtown Meal Limit! Vagrants are a serious, ongoing problem at Arlington Square Apartments downtown."

The coalition believes that developers have been influential in keeping the meal limit, even after the City Plan Board prompted the City Commission in March to replace it for the three-hour block alternative.

"It's not just for the homeless, it's the working poor that need to be fed," said Trisha Ingle, a picketer with the coalition. "The millionaires don't want the dirty, unwashed masses near their places of business."

McHenry was an art student at Boston University when he started Food Not Bombs with seven other students.

More than 30 years later, the autonomous organization is dedicated to salvaging and sharing food to promote political change and has movements in cities all over the world, including Gainesville.

Feeding programs like Food Not Bombs have been a focus in Gainesville since the city passed an ordinance that restricts the amount of meals served at St. Francis House to 130 meals a day.

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While the city has said it is residents and business owners who are in favor of the meal limit, the recent influx of petitions from the Southeast Gainesville neighborhood demonstrates otherwise, according to a release from the Coalition to End the Meal Limit NOW!.

Robbie Czopek, 26, is part of the information committee of the coalition and a local Food Not Bombs supporter and has seen the need for nutritional aid through both groups.

After hearing McHenry speak about the food-sharing practices of Food Not Bombs, Czepok said, "The need for local feeding programs is there, and there are solutions available."

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