Quincy Farm Share event shut down by Quincy Police Department amidst COVID-19 scares

Published: Apr. 4, 2020 at 4:02 PM EDT
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By: Brandon Spencer | WCTV Eyewitness News

April 4, 2020

Quincy, Fla. (WCTV) -- Living Stone International and Food Share partnered up Saturday morning to put together a food giveaway at the old Patches Roller Skating Rink for those in need during this pandemic. Before it could get started, however, the Quincy Police Department deemed it unsafe and shut down the event.

Volunteers from all over arrived early in the morning to help bag and give out over 15,000 pounds of food to those in need in the Gadsden County community and were frustrated about the cancellation.

Those participating in the setup said that cars were lined up in an organized fashion but a nearby neighbor felt uncomfortable by the build-up and contacted authorities.

Farm Share responded with a statement saying:

Farm Share partnered with one of our agencies, Living Stone International, to hold a drive-thru food distribution event for 500 households in Gadsden County this morning. Unfortunately, that food distribution event was shut down by the Quincy Police Department and our partner agency was informed that due to the COVID-19 pandemic they could not distribute any food. Our partner agency provided to the police on scene a printed document that stated that they were performing an essential service in partnership with Farm Share from the EOC and could distribute food to the community. The Quincy Police Department was unmoved by the document and thereafter began turning away the cars that had been waiting in line, many since 6:00 AM or earlier. Farm Share’s partner agency informed me that they had notified both the Quincy Police Department and Gadsden County Sheriff’s office in advance that the event was going to take place and were authorized to proceed. Allegedly neighbors from across the street from where the event was being held called and complained to the Quincy Police Department that they were concerned about the event occurring since the virus could spread through the air. The event was being held across the street from the neighborhood. All volunteers and staff at the event wore gloves and masks. All recipients of the food were required to remain in their cars with the windows up and the trunks open and could only drive-thru the event to receive food. No contact takes place between the recipients and other recipients or recipients and volunteers or staff members. No walkups are allowed at the event. This model has been used by Farm Share and our partner agencies throughout the state of Florida and is the safest way to distribute food to large numbers of people quickly. The event was just finishing setting up and getting ready to begin when the police shut it down. The volunteers and recipients were very upset that the event was being prevented from occurring. Many of the volunteers took the food and went into the community themselves to distribute it. Additionally, once the police had left, some late-arriving cars to the event began lining up and were provided food. Today Farm Share also held two (2) additional events with partner agencies in Walton and Okaloosa Counties. These were larger events and both were successfully carried out and in both of those cases were supported by the local government and/or county EOC. Farm Share’s partner agency has already spoken with Representative Alexander, Congressman Lawson and the Quincy City Manager to make sure future events are not shut down. There is a meeting that is planned to be scheduled on Monday with Farm Share and all parties to make sure that we can continue to provide food to the Gadsden County communities during the duration of this pandemic. Just to be clear, Farm Share did not cancel today’s food distribution event in Gadsden County and Farm Share and its partner agency, Living Stone International, was ready, willing and able to carry out today's food distribution event.

Gadsden County now has two confirmed cases of COVID-19 and it has drawn concern from people in the community.

City Manager Jack L. McClean Jr. said "I think it was a good cause. I think anytime you're trying to deliver food to the public it's a good cause but we didn't know about it at all."

He goes on to say that the city received complaints from nearby neighbors due to the fear of contracting the virus but they will work with Farm Share and the community organizers to ensure this event still goes on.

In a letter from Quincy Police Chief Glenn Sapp shared by State Rep. Ramon Alexander on social media, he called out the "total lack of communication, coordination and joint planning by the event staff with any members of city government."

Sapp also cited "initial concerns raised by residents of the neighborhood about the possible spread of Covid 19/Coronavirus" and "no thought or plan for the impact of having hundreds of cars lined up in front of residential homes and the impact on normal traffic in this residential area."

Organizers Larry Simmons and Janice Harris-Simmons say they're disappointed the event got shutdown and wish more could have been done to maintain it but they're looking forward to meeting with City Officials on Monday to help those get the supplies they need.