Residents of Carlyn Estates Mobile Home Park in Palmetto have been threatened with eviction because the park owner believes they are operating a commercial food bank that could bring in rats, roaches and mice.
Carlyn residents Duane "Tim" McCoyle and Curtis Wilson a few days ago turned over to the nonprofit Manatee County Senior Advocacy Center a violation notice they received on July 14 from park owners that includes language about pests caused by trash from food, Christie Castro, president of the Manatee County Senior Advocacy Center, said on Sunday.
The Bradenton Herald has previously reported that as many as 28 residents have recently received rule-violation notices from the park owner for accepting food for the last seven weeks from a Palmetto food pantry called Hope Center.
The violation notice states: "No peddling or soliciting or operation of a commercial enterprise is allowed in the park without prior consent of the management. You continue to operate a commercial food bank in Carlyn Estates in violation of Rule 52 which causes the disruption of the park, causes unsightly and unsanitary conditions, significant trash, along with rats, roaches, mice, etc."
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While it is true that about 28 Carlyn residents have been getting deliveries of food to their doors every Tuesday, they have not been operating a food bank, Castro said.
"These seniors are not running an illegal food bank out of your community," Castro said in an open plea to park owner Tonia Sonju. "They are only receiving donations from a local food pantry. It is perfectly within their right to receive those donations. If it is not something you want to happen on a large scale we can try to remedy that by doing something more discreet."
The Senior Advocacy Center, which acts as a local voice for seniors and is comprised of about 45 attorneys, doctors, social workers who raise money to help seniors, would like to talk to Sonju but she hasn't agreed to talk to them, Castro said.
A Herald reporter also was told that there would be no comment from the park owners.
"I don't know why she objects," Castro said of Sonju. "I would actually like to speak with her, just a sit down. The council is interested in remedying this problem. We would be happy to listen to her objections and try to overcome some of them."
Although the park owns all the land and the roads, management can't stop the delivery of a box from the U.S. Postal service or a delivery company to the residents -- so the box from the food pantry shouldn't be different, Robert Walker of the Council said Sunday.
The next delivery is scheduled Tuesday, but Castro said she fears many of the seniors will not accept the food out of fear of reprisals.
"Here we have all these anti-bullying campaigns for children and right now we need to start one for seniors," said Castro, who may get the Florida Department of Children and Families involved because she believes the case involves abuse of seniors.
Lenworth Gordon, director of the Hope Center, 1701 Ninth St. W., Palmetto, confirmed that the park owners were firm about no deliveries.
"I met the owner and was informed by her that the clients were welcome to travel to the Hope Center but not allowed to have delivery to their homes as being done." Gordon wrote in a letter to residents.
Gordon, in an apparent unsuccessful attempt to try to change the park owners' mind, assured her that the food deliveries to the park would not exceed more than one hour each week.
"In no way am I suggesting circumventing the mandates of the Carlyn Estates Community, only to facilitate those less fortunate than most to receive assistance during these trying times," Gordon wrote.
The Rev. Bill Pierson of J.O.Y. Fellowship and former president of the Manatee County Ministerial Association, said the focus should be on the group of needy seniors.
"These seniors are in a bad financial state and are only able to exist from food donated to them," Pierson said. "Some of these seniors have to make a choice between buying medicine or food. Anyone who abuses seniors gets me upset."
"We are in need of a lawyer to help these seniors," Castro said.