Church food bank fights City of Yelm over massive fine

YELM, Wash. -- A Thurston County food bank that has fed more than 125,000 people this year is battling the city of Yelm over building permits, zoning rules and a fine that's grown to about $90,000.

"I just want to feed as many people as I possibly can," said Dale Richardson, director of God's Portion, the food bank operated by Yelm Prairie Christian Center. "It's what God put me on this earth to do."

Richardson said his operation has been fined $250 dollars a day since March. The Church has not paid and continues to take in more than a million pounds of food donations each month. It relies on volunteers and more than 50 other church food banks to distribute the supplies to needy people throughout Puget Sound.

"I would not pay that money. I would still continue to feed people on church ground," Richardson said. "I'll do what God called me to do until they put me in handcuffs and put me in jail."

The City of Yelm filed a lawsuit against the organization, alleging it's violating terms of the original building permits. The church, for example, is using a warehouse on its property as a distribution center. The city understood it would only be used for storage.

Richardson said paying the fine would possibly bankrupt the church, crippling the food bank's ability to keep feeding needy families.

It appears, however, a compromise may be on the horizon.

Richardson said the city is now indicating it wants to find an amicable resolution to the dispute, and has put the lawsuit on hold.

Yelm Mayor Ron Harding said he cannot discuss details because of the pending litigation, but he confirmed lawyers for both sides are talking, with the goal of reaching a solution.

As far as enforcing the fine, the mayor said, "Fines are a means to get a given party to the table to talk. Our only desire to get the organization in compliance."

Harding said the city's goal is to make sure the buildings and the way they are used does not jeopardize public safety. Building codes and zoning regulations are intended to protect people.

Richardson is relieved it appears both sides are now working on a compromise.

"We're going to figure out how to fix this thing with the city, and the city is going to work with us," he said. "And we're going to become united in feeding the hungry."