On the third Tuesday of each month, the New Haven Green is dotted with tables offering free pizza and clothing. The group of volunteers responsible, who call themselves the “Pizza People,” operate with the simple wish of helping those in need. But according to members of the group, some city officials want the Pizza People’s services to stop.
Pizza People, spearheaded by Madison, Connecticut resident Susan McDevitt and her family, is a growing group of roughly 20 volunteers per month who are mostly from the Connecticut Shoreline. After emerging in 2013, the group evolved from distributing six pizza pies they bought themselves to bringing more than 50 pizzas and clothing and toiletries obtained from donations. Still, despite the popularity of their service, which reaches around 100 homeless and income-insecure individuals a month, the Pizza People claim they are facing possible displacement.
New Haven Police Department Downtown/Wooster Square District Manager Sgt. Roy Davis stated in a Feb. 24 article in the New Haven Register that New Haven already has social services that better serve people in need, including Columbus House, a privately run New Haven homeless shelter. Davis told the Register that the Pizza People’s time would be better spent collaborating with local shelters to maximize efficiency.
“First of all, you can’t push people who want to help people into the back alley,” McDevitt said, referring to an instance when Davis allegedly asked her to stop providing resources in New Haven and do so in her own hometown and its surrounding cities.
Although Davis declined to comment to the News, McDevitt said Davis explicitly told the group that they cannot continue to set up camp on the Green.
But McDevitt said her group will not halt their operations.
“We have every right for being there and doing what we are doing,” McDevitt said.
NHPD spokesman David Hartman denied claims that the Pizza People are being told to move their service elsewhere.
He said the allegations from the Register’s article about city officials being opposed to the distribution of free pizza was inaccurately reported.
“Here it is, officially: No one in the police department is telling anyone they can’t hand out pizza,” Hartman said. “This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”
McDevitt, who bases her operation in front of the Center Church, situated in the middle of the Green, said Davis had asked her to stop distributing goods in January and again in February.
She said she is particularly confused by requests to stop operating because her group does not leave litter behind and makes a transformative impact on its volunteers and patrons alike.
She noted that many who have received assistance from the group in past years secure stable jobs and housing and return as volunteers. She added that there is also an educational value of her family’s project. The Pizza People, which accepts volunteers as young as seven, help children and youth groups connect with and serve their neighborhoods and beyond. Often, she said, volunteers ask for donations from their neighborhoods or clear out their own closets for clothes they have not worn in years.
Regardless of whether city officials are against the Pizza People’s operations, local service organizations interviewed voiced support for their work. Sally Fleming, head of food pantry and the “Loaves & Fishes” ministry at St. Paul & St. James Episcopal Church, said the motivation behind giving out free food is simply to feed the hungry. In fact, Loaves & Fishes has been dedicated to providing nutritious food regularly to those in need for the past 35 years.
“There are plenty of people who are trying to do what they think is the right thing by nourishing people. I, for one, think that feeding people [is] giving them the energy to go on to do what they need to do,” Fleming said.
The Pizza People receive 40 pizzas as donations from Modern Apizza every month.