The Zacchaeus Community Kitchen, a mainstay for the homeless at 14th Street NW, has been threatened with eviction, and its founder has spent the holiday season scouring the city for his Christmas wish -- a new home for the soup kitchen that has served meals at various locations for the past 15 years.
The new owner of the building at 1522 14th St. NW, U.S. Property Development Corp., which is affiliated with the Unification Church, has threatened legal action against the kitchen if it has not moved by Jan. 1, according to Zacchaeus' founder, Ed Guinan. As of yesterday, the kitchen had no place to go.
"We hope it will be a real Christmas story and that we can work it out," Guinan said yesterday. But he vowed that the kitchen will not move, even if its directors must go to court. "We would rather not go through that process, but if it is a choice between that and disrupting services . . . we are not going to leave."
Property manager David Pelton of U.S. Property Development refused to comment on the issue, saying he does not talk to "anybody in the press."
Guinan said that when the new owners purchased the property in March he tried to find out whether they planned to renew the kitchen's lease, which expired Oct. 31. The answer -- that the lease would not be renewed -- finally came in a letter from Pelton dated Sept. 4, Guinan said.
In a Nov. 6 letter, Guinan said he was granted an extension through Dec. 31 but was told that if the kitchen remained, U.S. Property "will pursue all the remedies . . . it is entitled to by law."
Despite the uncertain future, the kitchen yesterday looked much as it does every day. More than 100 people climbed the stairs to the second-floor dining room and sat at long tables over steaming bowls of thick soup and hunks of bread. Many were disturbed to learn that Zacchaeus, at its present location for the past five years, will have to move.
"That is a piece of very sad news," said Anthony Corveli, who has become a regular since he came to Washington last month from Hartford, Conn. "Zacchaeus soup kitchen is . . . solid as granite . . . . It has come to be famous. In the shelter grapevine, you hear the quality of the food is unsurpassed. Nothing can beat it."
Joe Washington, who works part time as an inserter at The Washington Post and says he lives "here and there," said Zacchaeus serves more than food. It is a "meeting place" for many of the men, he said. "A lot of these guys have given up completely, and this is all they've got."
Other tenants, who will remain in the building, said the kitchen has created some problems but is a good neighbor to the artists' studios there and the Woolly Mammoth Theater, a new tenant on the ground floor.
Linda Reinisch, managing director of Woolly Mammoth, said that there is sometimes litter in front of the building, and artist Joe Beasley said some of his clients are "petrified to walk into a depressed environment." Still, each said the problems are not insurmountable.
Guinan said he has looked at nearly 40 locations since September, but all require too much renovation, are too expensive or have owners who are not interested in having the kitchen as a tenant.
Guinan acknowledged that the kitchen, which runs on private donations, has been late at times with its rent and may create some security problems, but he said the payments are now up to date and the kitchen has taken "extraordinary steps" to deal with other problems.
He said he talked to Pelton yesterday and told him the kitchen would not be out by New Year's Day. Pelton, he said, told him he would get back to him by the end of the month.
Guinan said he mentioned U.S. Property's "affiliation with the Unification Church" to Pelton.
"A church should not get caught up with such an un-Christian attitude, to throw a food kitchen for the destitute and poor out on the street," Guinan said. "You would think they would be proud to have us."