Harmar officials denied a zoning permit to an organization hoping to offer Bible study classes and food pantry services to the Alle-Kiski Valley.
Feeding the Flock Ministries hopes to move into a former Jehovah’s Witness hall at 490 Nixon Road. But township officials denied its application because it isn’t a church or house of worship, which are the only non-residential uses permitted for the property, because it’s in a residential zoning district.
A public hearing will be held by the township’s zoning hearing board to consider the matter Feb. 28.
Feeding the Flock officials maintain it is a nondenominational Christian house of worship that will offer Bible study classes for all faiths as well as operate a free food pantry for residents in need.
“We’re kind of at a standstill,” said Michele Bock, director of Feeding the Flock. “They just don’t believe we’re a house of worship.”
Bock said the organization is working to get federal 501(c)(3) nonprofit status but hasn’t gotten it yet.
She said it will run strictly on donations and will partner with other food banks in the Pittsburgh region to bring fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and other food to the needy. It also will offer toiletries and household cleaners.
She said it plans to be open once a week for the food pantry and once a week for Bible study and prayer.
The group is new and doesn’t have a facility.
“We want to be open in the evening because the suburban poor is so rampant out there that people don’t recognize (it),” she said. “They’re living pay-to-pay.”
Bock said the group wanted to find a location that would allow those in need to have dignity when coming to the food pantry. She said the Nixon Road property is perfect because the space offers three large open rooms where people can gather.
“These people need to know they matter in the community,” Bock said. “This is a place that’s bright and clean and they can feel good about themselves.”
The building was purchased by the organization’s vice president, Walter Reineman, as an investment property. According to the original application, Reineman said there was “no intended use” for the property at the time of purchase. Bock said the group has no plans to pay rent to Reineman for use of the building.
In letters from township zoning Officer Rick McMillen, dated Dec. 12 and Jan. 2, he said the property can’t be used as a food pantry, warehouse or storagelike facility, and the organization doesn’t qualify as a house of worship.
Reineman and township Secretary Ian Fitzgerald declined to comment on the matter before the public hearing. Multiple messages left for zoning hearing board solicitor Craig Alexander were not returned.
Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Emily at 724-226-4680, [email protected] or via Twitter @emilybalser.