La Villita food pantry may be forced to relocate

Employees, locals worried about church's long-term mission

The city's decision to revitalize historic La Villita means many of the long-time tenants, including a food pantry located there, could be pushed out.

Gary McQuade volunteers at the little church of La Villita and remembers fondly his days spent working in the food pantry behind the chapel.

He said he is disappointed to hear the city is looking to put a new tenant in that spot.

"That would mean all the church has stood for since about 1955 would be gone," McQuade said.

According to food panty director Arthur Flores, they provide bags of food for 25-30 families daily and they've been doing it since 1958.

He also thinks the current location is perfect because it is downtown.

"We're in the very heart of downtown," Flores said. "Many of the people who come here come on a bus, and so it's very easy for them to get to us."

Brita Long, who's getting married at the church Saturday -- 30 years after her parents did -- said she appreciates what the church stood for.

"I think it's really heartbreaking. I love the history of the church and reading about their ministry," she said. "The idea that (more than) 50 years of doing something is going to end is tough."

Sebastian Guajardo, with the city's Department of Cultural and Creative Development, explains the plan is to bring in artists, galleries and restaurants to reinvigorate the area.

According to Guajardo, this will happen through opening the lease application process up to everyone, with no favoritism given to long-time tenants.

He admits the church's fate is uncertain as currently, the nonprofit organization that runs it only pays $0.31 per square foot for the space.

"We've encouraged them to apply to continue to manage the church through the process and the rent will be $1.25 a square foot," Guajardo said.

"I think if you try and make it kind of a touristy thing, where it's just restaurants and art shops, then it kind of takes away from the soul of the community," said resident Daniel Fleck.