National attention for front yard food bank fight; neighbor speaks out

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- One Glendale woman's fight to keep giving away food from her front yard to hungry people has intensified to a national level. Last week, Millie Ramirez received her final warning from the city, saying she has to stop her front yard food bank or appear before a judge.

"I don't want to stop and I don't think I'm going to," Ramirez said after being told that she could have to explain herself to a judge.

With overwhelming support pointing toward Ramirez and her front yard food bank, the neighbor who complained to the city spoke for the first time Tuesday about why she opposes Ramirez's operation staying in the neighborhood.

While she wants her voice to be heard, the woman didn't want her identity revealed because she has read threatening comments aimed at her on the Internet.

"I just don't see how it's safe, leaving food out standing out in the sun all day, letting anyone come and take it," she explained. "Like I said, rodents, birds [can get it].  It cannot be safe."

Ramirez has been putting donated food out on her front yard for about seven years.  Every day she wheels out a shelving unit filled with dry goods and a refrigerated unit filled with frozen goods and perishables.  She leaves everything in the front yard for a few hours with a sign telling people to help themselves.  Every night she puts it all away.

But after the neighbor's complaint, the city started giving Ramirez notices to let her know she's out of compliance with a city code prohibiting the storage of items in public view.  The city told 3TV the neighborhood isn't zoned for Ramirez's charitable activities and it's irrelevant whether the items are put away each night.
"[It's] bringing transients into this area.  It's bad for property values; it's bad for neighbor safety.  There's children all around and it's not a safe environment," said the neighbor, adding that her child's school, Glendale American Elementary, sits right across the street from Ramirez's house.

"I do have a few homeless people that come through here. If the food's not here they're gone because I've explained to them they cannot hang around here," Ramirez countered. "We have to respect the neighbors and the neighborhood."

Since getting her first notice from the city, Ramirez has built a fence to hide the food from street view and the Rutherford Institute, a national civil rights group from Virginia, has sent a letter to the city telling it to leave Ramirez alone. That group also told 3TV it would file a lawsuit on Ramirez's behalf if necessary.  Ramirez said she won't back down and will face a judge if need be.

Meanwhile, the unhappy neighbor hopes the city stands it's ground, too.

"I support her being a giving person.  I support her wanting to give charity.  But I just think that this neighborhood is not the right place for it," she said.  "I'm not a mean person. I don't wish anyone ill will."

Ramirez told 3TV that city code officials have been by her home to photograph her food in the front yard twice since issuing a final warning, but have yet to issue her a summons to appear before a judge.