A 78-year-old grandmother from Arizona who spends her time selflessly helping the poor is fighting back after she says she was arrested for feeding the homeless in a local park.
“I will not [stop my ministry],” Norma Thornton told CBN’s Faithwire. “I don’t care what they say. They are wrong, and I’m right. One of the ways I know I’m right is: I’ve prayed about it.”
Thornton explained how her invocations to the Lord always lead other good Samaritans to deliver something she needs.
“Every time I’m in doubt, something happens … suddenly there’s a box of food or a bag of food or whatever it is I need,” she said. “Blankets showed up here at my doorstep just a few days ago. The temperature dropped quite a bit [and] many of the people were very cold.”
Thornton continued, “So, God … put it on somebody’s heart to put that food at my doorstep, or that the bedding, or the hygiene stuff.”
The kind woman, who personally cooks food for the poor and serves it to them, made headlines after she was arrested in March for giving food to the homeless at Bullhead City Community Park, a place she had been going to almost daily for four years.
“It was nice and warm and sunny and my husband and I carried food down to the park as we’d done almost every day of the week,” she said. “And as the day was just finishing up and everybody was pretty well gone … a couple of police officers drove up and asked what I was doing.”
Thornton said she showed the officers her identification and then was told she would be arrested and fingerprinted — something that shocked her.
It is reportedly illegal to give out prepared food in the park for “charitable purposes” without a permit. A permit, though, only allows one feeding for a two-hour period once a month — and is expensive.
“[The cop] says, ‘You are arrested. This is an official arrest, and you have to go to court,’” she recalled. “We did the paperwork, and I had to sign it, and it gave the court date and all.”
At first, Thornton said she thought the incident was a joke, or that she was being tricked somehow. But she knew it was all too real once she was buckled inside the police vehicle. And, though the charges were later dropped, the situation still left her shaken.
“Later, when I went to court, the judge told me, ‘Don’t say anything,’” she said. “He said, this is what can happen. This is what it is. And he told me all of the things that could happen if I was found guilty and it was jail time, there was probation time, there was a large fine, and it’s like, ‘Whoa.’”
Thornton has since moved her ministry to a private alleyway, which isn’t precluded by the city ordinance. She’s grateful for the space but worries it isn’t ideal for those who desperately need food.
“God bless the man that lets me use his property, because it’s private property, so it’s OK,” she said. “We’re out of sight of the main public. It’s just a dirt alleyway. … I serve up their food as they come by, and they just sit on the ground. There’s no water, there’s no restroom facilities.”
Despite being grateful, she said it’s “dehumanizing” to make people sit on the ground, lamenting the loss of the benches and spaces where people previously could sit and eat in the park.
Thornton is intent on continuing her mission, though. Beyond that, she’s also taking legal action against Bullhead City, Arizona, over the ordinance at the center of her arrest.
The Institute for Justice, a legal group representing Thornton, wants the ordinance suspended, arguing it violates her civil rights under the 14th Amendment.
She’s hoping to one day serve food again in the park.
“It is the only place in the northern part of town that has running water and bathroom facilities so they can wash their hands before they come to eat,” Thornton said, noting how she leaves the park clean after each feeding, and how she’s typically there less than an hour.
In the end, Thornton said her encouragement to push forward and continue feeding the poor comes from her faith.
“The number one motivation is my Savior, Jesus Christ, and His Father. We are told repeatedly, the first and most foremost commandment is love,” she said. “Love thy neighbor. Love your fellow man. He [said] several times, ‘What you do to the least of my people, you so do to me.’ That’s basically my motivation.”
Thornton believes there’s “no reason” human beings should be hungry in America, considering the luxuries and resources at the nation’s disposal.
May the Lord continue to bless this fine lady. God will reach out and open up bigger and better things. He already has by bringing ministers in the form of provisions for her mission.