Hungry no more
City reinstates restaurant owner’s free meal program at Villa-Parke Community Center
By André Coleman 04/30/2014
A local restaurateur who fought City Hall to keep his free meals program open at the Villa-Parke Community Center told the Pasadena Weekly that there is no political agenda behind his free meals program.
“We’re just serving people who are hungry,” said Robin Salzer, owner of Robin’s Woodfire BBQ. Salzer serves free meals at the Jackie Robinson Center and Villa-Parke.
“I don’t care who comes through that door. I am not running for office. I don’t even live in the district near the park,” Salzer said.
Some people have said Salzer, a former City Council candidate, is feeding people in order to drum up support for the 2015 mayoral race. He told the Weekly he is not seeking that office.
Pasadena Human Services and Recreation Director Mercy Santoro attempted to shut down the Villa-Parke program in March. According to Salzer, Santoro told him that the park attracted undesirables and that a boy was molested in the park bathroom.
Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez told the Weekly the incident did not occur. Police officers were dispatched to the location after a man told a parks officer that he had seen a boy and a man in the bathroom together. However, after further questioning the man revealed that he had not seen any inappropriate behavior. Pasadena police officers investigated the situation and determined that a crime did not occur. It was reported that an attempted rape also occurred, but that proved to be false, officials said.
Soon after the Weekly reported that the city was trying to shut down the program, Salzer had a second meeting with Santoro, who was accompanied by Assistant City Manager Steve Mermell. Mermell apologized to Salzer and admitted that the molestation did not occur.
Salzer told the Weekly that since that time more than 90 people have received meals at Villa-Parke. Santoro and Mermell worked service lines at those events.
“Villa-Parke is an important recreation, sports and community service complex for the city,” Santoro said in a prepared statement. “We have a strong commitment to serving all of Pasadena while also being sensitive to the specific needs of the Villa-Parke community. Mr. Salzer’s philanthropy is to be commended and we want to work with him to make sure he has the opportunity to continue his good work.”
Salzer and the city are currently working together to improve the program, Salzer said.
“Eradicating hunger in our community, even if only for one or two nights per week, will improve the quality of life for those without and will validate the commitment of a community and city that truly cares.” Salzer said.
The Pasadena United Hot Meals Program is held on from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursdays at Villa-Parke Community Center, at 363 E. Villa St. The Jackie Robinson Center hosts the program from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays.