Group of Locals Push Church to Relocate Food Pantry

Photo by Christian Leonard / Burbank Leader | Annette Graziani, Little White Chapel’s office manager, shows the church’s food pantry to a group of children during a recent blessing ceremony for the box. Dozens of residents, faith leaders and public officials gathered earlier this month for the event.

First published in the April 16 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

The Rev. Julie Davis was praying.

The practice, of course, was a regular one for the senior pastor of Little White Chapel in Burbank. What was more novel was the focus of her intercessions: a small wooden food pantry placed on the church’s lawn.

Davis stood April 1 before dozens of congregants, residents, public officials and faith leaders. The stole around her shoulders, emblazoned with rainbow gradients, danced in the chill evening wind as Davis asked God to bless the pantry.

“As I think most of you know,” she added, “the pantry is in need of some super-sized, supersonic blessings now.”

Davis didn’t say what she meant. But many of the visitors understood.

A group of residents near Avon Street and Jeffries Avenue have sought for months to make the food pantry move from their neighborhood, alleging it attracts trash, human waste and people sleeping on the sidewalk.

The church and its supporters have refused to take the pantry down, saying it furthers a Christian duty to care for people experiencing homelessness and food insecurity. The pantry came to the church around 2018, according to Monica Karell, whose husband, Adam, built the box for her birthday. They decided they wanted the pantry to have a public location, and Little White Chapel — which they attend — was happy to host it.

Karell, who said she lives about a minute from the church, said in an interview that neighbors have largely rallied around the pantry. People use it so often that it empties two to three times a day, she added, but residents donate food or money to make sure it is always replenished.

“I really wanted the neighbors to be a part of it, and not just this thing that I’m doing or that the church is doing,” Karell said.

Terry Bruse, who lives near the church, said he thought the food pantry was a good idea when it was installed. But since then, he added, issues have arisen.

Bruse said that food waste has landed on the sidewalk or on his property — once, a bag of split peas ended up in his yard. But more concerning to him is the presence of people experiencing homelessness.

About six months ago, someone climbed over his backyard wall to get to the church, and about once a month he finds used toilet paper near the building. He also said some neighbors are nervous about people sleeping on the sidewalk, though he added none of them have been aggressive.

He’s not opposed to helping homeless people, he added, but he doesn’t think the food pantry is appropriate for a residential neighborhood.

“It’s an attraction that shouldn’t be in the neighborhood,” Bruse said. “A residential area should be quiet … but the church is the magnet for traffic and congestion and noise and smokers and trash-throwers.”


Photo by Christian Leonard / Burbank Leader | The Rev. Julie Davis, senior pastor at Little White Chapel, prays with residents and faith leaders during a recent blessing ceremony for a small food pantry outside the church. The pantry has attracted criticism from some neighbors who say it attracts trash and people experiencing homelessness.

Church representatives adamantly opposed that characterization. Davis said in an interview that she and church members check the pantry throughout the day for trash. She also said she hasn’t seen feces, and that the church has not received reports of crime.

Davis added that the church recently hired a full-time janitor who will provide a third set of eyes on the property, and is asking city officials if a caretaker can live on church grounds.

“The neighbors have a sense that the church is being non-responsive,” she said, pointing out that Little White Chapel doesn’t own property anywhere else and, therefore, can’t move the pantry.

“The church is not being non-responsive. The church is just not giving them what they want,” she said.

Davis sees the pantry as a way she can carry out Jesus’ calling to care for the poor and disenfranchised while protecting their privacy. But she believes it’s not just people experiencing homelessness who are using it — some nearby residents take food, too.

Karell said several people living in the area have told her privately that they had to use the pantry for a meal.

While Karell has empathy with those who have concerns about the pantry, she believes eliminating their discomfort isn’t as important as feeding people.

“Well-fed, well-housed and well-warmed people have no idea what it’s like to make a decision on an empty stomach,” she said. “[The pantry is] just a small symbol of hope to get through the day.”

What is a symbol of hope to the church is a “nuisance” to Bruse and his fellow neighbors, he said. Ingrid Kriegler, who lives just a few doors down from the church, estimated that she’s spoken to between seven and 10 people who have concerns about the pantry.

Kriegler said she supports the intention behind the pantry — and has even donated food herself — but feels her neighborhood has become less safe as the number of homeless people has increased.

Like Bruse, Kriegler emphasized that none of the people experiencing homelessness she’s encountered have acted violently, and she’d even volunteered at a monthly food drive at the church. However, she doesn’t believe the pantry belongs on a residential street.

“I don’t feel every homeless person is going to attack me,” she added. “But it is an uncomfortable situation to see more and more homeless people coming into the neighborhood.”


City officials have, so far, taken a mostly hands-off approach to the dispute, noting that the church hasn’t broken any local laws and has the proper permits for the pantry.

City Council members Sharon Springer — who used to attend the church before she moved to a different neighborhood — and Nick Schultz, as well as Emily Weisberg, a member of the Burbank Unified School Board, even attended the blessing ceremony and spoke in support of the pantry.

Patrols in the neighborhood from both the Burbank Police Department and the city’s Streetplus team — which helps oversee homeless services — have increased in response to complaints, officials from both agencies said.

Robert Newman, who runs the city’s homeless outreach program and has met with both church officials and neighbors, said in an email that patrols haven’t seen “substantial traffic” in the pantry’s use.

“These small food pantries provide a service to the homeless and those who may be living in the area that need help,” Newman said. “We would hope that the Little White Chapel and [the] community can work together.”

Those who have raised complaints expressed frustration that more hasn’t been done. With the church legally in the clear, Bruse noted, he doubts anything will change besides the more frequent patrols.

“They’re never going to take it down,” he added. “But it’s a nuisance in the neighborhood [for] people [who] live here, who have to deal with this trash and crap on the sidewalk.”

But Davis said that the nature of reports from the group of neighbors has escalated to the point that she considers it harassment. Those residents have contacted Burbank police and even the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health in their attempts to make the pantry move.

A county inspector visited the pantry in March after receiving a report about alcohol and non-packaged items at risk of spoilage, a public health department spokesperson confirmed. The official found no such items or trash, according to the inspection report.

The pantry has encountered other obstacles as well. Davis said the door to the food box was torn off and left in the grass just days after the blessing ceremony. It’s unclear who was responsible.

However, on April 1, the mood on the lawn of Little White Chapel was joyous. Some attendees brought bags of food to donate to the pantry, and one faith leader said the pantry has inspired his congregation to create its own public pantry.

And then, they began to pray. They prayed that God would bless the pantry, that those who ate from it would feel cared for, and that it would be a symbol of love.