The founders of Cafe of Life have dissolved the organization, but the board says the founders have no authority to do that and is requesting the state revoke the dissolution.
The nonprofit feeds the needy every weekday by the banyan tree in downtown Bonita Springs.
Its board members are working on an agreement with the city under which Cafe would lease, for about $1 a year, a half-acre donated by Lee County to build and maintain a park that would include a serving kitchen, pavilion with grills, playground and basketball court. The site is at the eastern end of the Rosemary Park/Leitner Creek neighborhood.
Dale and Paula Walker founded Cafe of Life Inc. in 1998 but left the board in 2003 after a disagreement over its mission. They have not been involved with the organization since.
“We’ve gotten phone calls from people that knew us back then, that have been reading the papers,” said Paula Walker. “They say, ‘Hey, what’s happening with the Cafe? I’m not particularly happy about having it in my backyard.’ We don’t have anything to do with it. We don’t know anything about it.”
The Walkers filed articles to dissolve Cafe of Life on June 5 because they say the organization still was registered with the state under their name.
“We’re concerned about the liability,” Dale Walker said. “It’s not right for us to get blamed for something we’re not involved in.”
According to state Division of Corporations records, Dale Walker is listed on the incorporation document in 1998 but was deleted from the list of officers and directors in the 2004 annual report and Paula Walker was deleted in the 2003 annual report. Their names have not shown up on any reports since.
The state gives the board 120 days to revoke the dissolution.
“In due course, they will put it back as an active corporation,” said Bill Schweikhardt, a Cafe of Life board member and an attorney. “(Walker) really had no authority to dissolve the corporation.”
The nonprofit hired a consultant to design and conduct a survey in which 102 households, or 35 percent of the neighborhood’s population, were interviewed. More than 90 percent said they’d like a park in the area and would be OK with Cafe using it weekday mornings.
In May, the City Council voted 5-2 to authorize city staff to negotiate with Lee County to get the land donated and work on a lease agreement with Cafe for Leitner Neighborhood Park. Council members Peter Simmons and Martha Simons dissented because of security concerns they shared with many residents who spoke at the meeting.
The council told Cafe to hold a neighborhood meeting at which residents and property owners can see the proposed plan. The council also will hold a public hearing before considering the lease agreement.
“We’re doing some additional surveys – other adjacent property owners – and then we will be having a general meeting at the site sometime next month for all the people who live in Rosemary Park,” said Bruce Wheatley, Cafe’s vice chairman.
The organization plans to spend $500,000 to $600,000 to build and maintain the park.
Cafe, which does not turn anybody away, feeds a daily average of 80 to 120 people hot, buffet-style lunches cooked at home by people or by restaurants and distributing donated groceries and clothing.
The Walkers began by serving coffee and pastries out of an Old 41 Road storefront, helping people return to being functioning and contributing members of society.
“We never ever let anybody in line that we did not know, except on Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving. On those three days, it was open to everybody and anybody,” Dale Walker said. “Otherwise, we knew the person. We knew their name. We knew their background. … There was an awful lot of people that I did not allow back into the cafe because they were scamming.”
After losing that space, Cafe served meals at two churches, Community Hall and, now, by the banyan tree while board members have searched for a permanent home.