The huge white hand-lettered sign taped on the park's brick wall said, "Food Stamp Hearing, this way."
But up the rough-hewn steps into Meridian Hill Park, also known as Malcolm X Park, on 16th Street NW, city and federal bureaucrats and members of the Mayor's Commission on Food, Nutrition and Health milled about, talking in groups of twos and threes in sometimes hushed and embarrassed tones.
They held a public hearing, but nobody came.
"This hearing is being held to educate and to inform the public about this (Food Stamp Act) regulation. We trust you will find this hearing beneficial in improving the Food Stamp Act," said Alice L. Bruce, chairperson of the commission that sponsored the event.
Bruce, who wore a black crocheted shawl around her shoulders, fingered white notecards from which she read her speech to the public that wasn't there.
The hearing was to discuss changes that citizens who use food stamps felt were necessary in the proposed new act. That act, a 120-page document printed in the Federal Register last month, would drastically affect eligibility requirements, among other things.
"I feel bad about this session; it seems like we have more people from the state (local) agencies than from anywhere else," said James Aplington, a witness and representative of the Community Nutrition Institute, an agency that also assists food stamp recipients.
Mildred Brooks, executive secretary to the commission, said, "This is our first public hearing and I suppose we were just unable to do an extensive outreach(letting the public know) for this hearing. With limited staff, it's difficult. I'm a dietician, not a public relations person."
Brooks said because of an oversight, she did not contact Mayor Walter E. Washington's public relations office to send out media notices about the hearing until Tuesday.
The hearing had been tentatively planned for more than a month. Notices were mailed to community organizations and leaders several weeks before the hearing, and Brook's assistant said she called 60 members of the advisory committee to the mayor's commission asking them to testify and to encourage food stamp recipients to come. But the public scored a no show. And only three of the seven scheduled witnesses representing social service agencies were on hand.
When the work crew assigned to set up chairs, tables and microphones arrived at the park, they were late and argued with a U.S. Park Police officer about not being able to drive their loaded vans onto park grounds.
As the crew finally started setting up the equipment, Bruce said, "Well, that one is solved. What else is going to happen?"
When the meeting started, more than a hour late, Jean Johnson, chairperson of the commission's Food Stamp Advisory Committee said that "the logistics fell apart, but thank goodness for the good weather."
"We're going to get together with Martin Schaller (the mayor's executive secretary) and Sam Eastman (the mayor's public relations aide) to see what we can do to make next week's hearing a success," Brooks said. That hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at Orr Elementary School, Minnesota Avenue and Naylor Road SE.
"But in many ways, this commission is treated like a stepchild," she said. "We've had problems getting assistance when we've needed it; we are housed in an office that still, after months, has not been painted. There have been improvements along the way, but we still need more assistance (from the Districtgovernment)."