(WSVN) - It’s a group that feeds the hungry inside a church. The problem: a city wants them to stop and is fining them hundreds of thousands of dollars, and so the priest leading the group turned to Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

The roads will have traffic, the beaches will have sand, and Father Bob will have food for the hungry.

Father Bob Caudill, All Saints Catholic Mission: “What we do every day, twice a day, is feeding the poor, and we have for 31 years.”

Father Bob is the pastor at All Saints Catholic Mission in Oakland Park, where 200 people a day get a hot meal.

Volunteer: “Delicious food, huh?”

Food donated by companies, handed out by volunteers and enjoyed by the hungry inside a cool church sanctuary where Father Bob counsels and consoles.

Father Bob Caudill: “It’s just, you know, this is a religious place, and religion, by its very definition, is trying to get people closer to God and helping them.”

Parishioner: “If it wasn’t for Father Bob, I would be hungry on many a day.”

A lot of thankful people here, and from the City of Oakland Park, a lot of headaches.

Father Bob Caudill: “They came and served me papers, cease and desist, can’t serve anymore.”

Oakland Park ordered the church to stop feeding the poor back in 2014.

Father Bob, who has read the 2,000 passages in the Bible that say “feed the poor,” listened to the Lord instead.

Father Bob Caudill: “I told the police officer, she delivered it, ‘I’m not going to stop, so if you want to arrest me, arrest me now.'”

Oakland Park didn’t arrest Father Bob. Instead, they started fining him $125 every single day. Thanksgiving, Christmas, it doesn’t matter to the city.

Father Bob Caudill: “It’s close to $200,000, so I’m told, basically, so it’s getting up there.”

What makes Father Bob smile? Some of the politicians who are fining him tell him they’re fine with what he is doing.

Father Bob Caudill: “These new ones said, ‘We’re going to be a kinder, more compassionate group,’ and when they talk to me privately, ‘Oh, we’re on your side.'”

But since Father Bob believes the city wants the kitchen gone to redevelop the area, the politicians change sides.

Father Bob Caudill: “They’re not supporting us. There’s a lot of duplicity in our politicians.”

So, while the hungry eat, the priest offers a prayer for relief from the city’s daily fines.

Father Bob Caudill: “They could just bring it up on the agenda and eliminate it. It’s a very simple operation.”

Legally, can a city fine a church for feeding the poor inside a sanctuary? Howard?

Howard Finkelstein, 7News legal expert: “This type of move by a commission to try to force out a religious group is against the law. The Florida legislature and the U.S. Congress have passed laws to protect churches who feed the poor, and by ignoring prior cases, Oakland Park could cost their taxpayers a lot of money to pay if they do not wipe out the fines.”

I sent Oakland Park nine questions, such as:

  • Does Oakland Park plan to place a lien on the church and try to foreclose on the property?
  • Has the city fined other religious organizations that are helping the homeless?

The city refused to answer a single question, instead sending a statement saying the church must follow the law and be in compliance with the code.

The statement, signed by the City of Oakland Park, ended with, “We have invited them to meet with us to find a resolution. Our door remains open when they are ready to discuss this pending matter.”

I read it to Father Bob.

Father Bob Caudill: “I think they lied. I’ve never been invited to a meeting with them. Never.”

Fines every day for eight years time, Father Bob says, “It’s time.”

Father Bob Caudill: “Leave us alone. We’ll see you guys at breakfast tomorrow.”

And the next day and the next day. Clearly Father Bob and his volunteers will not stop feeding the hungry, no matter how much the city fines him.

Now, if you would like to help All Saints Catholic Mission, maybe donate food, clothes or money, the link is at the end of this Help Me Howard story. The hungry and homeless would appreciate the help.

Cooked up a problem that’s eating at you? Ready to spoon-feed it to someone? Serve it to us, and see if we can dish up a solution.

With this Help Me Howard, I’m Patrick Fraser, 7News.

To donate to All Saints Catholic Mission to help the hungry and homeless:
Allsaintsmission.org

CONTACT HELP ME HOWARD:
Email: helpmehoward@wsvn.com
Reporter: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com
Miami-Dade: 305-953-WSVN
Broward: 954-761-WSVN

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