Published August 18, 2012
A Pennsylvania woman has vowed to continue doling out free lunches to children in her hardscrabble neighborhood, even though officials there have threatened to fine her $600 a day.
Angela Prattis, 41, was ordered by the Chester Township Council to wind down the makeshift dining room she runs in the driveway of her modest home during the summer for the hungry kids who come to her daily in search of a good meal. Under pressure from the community, the local leaders agreed to let Prattis finish her mission this summer, but told her she would need a zoning variance to resume the operation next summer.
"I'm going to continue to feed the children," Prattis told FoxNews.com. "I'm just doing this for the kids. I don't want a big fight.
"I just want to be in right standing with the town," added Prattis, who feeds 20 or more kids on some days. "I know how to follow protocol, as long as it's clearly defined."
The mother of four, who works as a massage therapist, says she serves up the lunches while the kids are out of school because many are too poor to get good lunches at home. Prattis gets the food from the Philadelphia Archdiocese, which makes daily deliveries of pre-packaged lunches, drinks and snacks to her doorstep. She pointed out that the archdiocese required her to take a preparatory class focusing on nutrition -- and other essentials -- before serving kids.
"I'm not working with some fly-by-night operation," she maintained. "This is the archdiocese, for crying out loud."
Prattis, her husband, Derrick, and their children recently moved into the home after living for years in the Delaware County Housing Projects in nearby Woodlyn. She says her new neighborhood isn't affluent, but the people are salt of the earth types.
"This isn't a working-class neighborhood," she quipped. "It's a hardworking-class neighborhood."
The neighborhood kids enjoy the lunches and benefit from the nutrition, she said.
"We have tons of children, here," Prattis said. "There's a lady who baby-sits a bunch of kids and she brings them around because the parents can't afford to have them in day care and feed them at the same time.
"We had a nasty storm last Wednesday, and I only set up one table because I didn't think the kids would come in the pouring rain," she said, before adding, "They all came. I served 20 children in the pouring rain."
On a typical summer weekday, neighborhood men set up three plastic tables in Prattis's driveway, along with about 25 folding chairs donated by The Church of The Overcomer in nearby Trainer, Pa. Food from the Archdiocese's "Feeding Program" arrives around 9:30 a.m. truck. Prattis said the eager children are usually on hand when the Archdiocese truck arrives, and help unload their own meals.
"They know that I'm committed and going to be there at that particular time for them. "It means a lot for them to have a friendly face that they know will be there every day. And for me, I know when they're with me, at the least, they are safe and having fun, and out of harm's way, and not getting into trouble."
But on July 31, Councilman William Kennard showed up at a meeting of the neighborhood civic association and told the gathering Prattis' free lunch program was unlawful. At the town council meeting two days later, elected officials voted to levy a $600-a-day fine for each day Prattis fed the kids.
Kennard could not be reached for comment.
Prattis continued to serve the meals, and, although no fine was levied, on Aug. 10 she received a letter from the township saying she could serve kids until Aug. 24, but that she must apply for a variance next year. It costs $1,000 to apply for the variance, she said, and there is no guarantee the council will accept it, Prattis said.
One way or another, she said she'll be feeding kids next summer.
"What's in my heart?" she asked. "I feel like they could be focusing on a lot of other serious issues that are taking place in my neighborhood, instead of something I think is very positive and keeping our kids on the right side of the law."