ABC's Extreme Home Makeover: Was There Some Nefarious Plan Afoot?

Was there an attempt to shut up the locals through political correctness even though the rules were known in advance?

By , Contributor

I doubt anyone in America would deny food to the hungry. I am no exception.

This Friday night, November 18, airing for two hours at 8p and 9p EST, Extreme Home Makeover will feature its show about the Jusst Sooup Ministry headed by the Reverend Dale Dunning. It’s quite a dramatic story that took place here near my residence in Lewes, Delaware, indeed, featuring hurricanes and tornados as they occurred while the building of a new home for Dunning was filling the local media with joy and anticipation.

ty-pennington.jpgAs it would turn out, there is little joy in Lewes today, as Dunning was denied a special exception to turn her new home, built by local builder Schell Brothers, into a soup kitchen that would feed the hungry when they drop in without bother of prior invitation. Evidently ABC, Schell Brothers, and the good Reverend herself thought that zoning laws were of little matter and they went ahead with this vaunted project KNOWING a permit would not be granted to turn this building into a soup kitchen in the true sense of the word.

In fact I wrote about this story as it was happening right here on The Morton Report. At the time of my writing I had no idea that the powers-that-be went ahead with building this thing knowing that it was not zoned for its intended use.  And we know all of this via interviews with one of the building Schell brothers and the Reverend Dunning herself.

A bit of background here, to be digested by the reader. Dunning’s ministry received revenues of $303,486 according to their 2010 Form 990 (required filing for tax-exempt organizations). Charities doing this sort of work average annual revenues of $64,979. The assets of this ministry are valued at $261,986. Other similar charities average assets of $19,385. Thus this is not a poor charity in the category of feeding the hungry and further, Lewes, Delaware is not a poor area. Citizens of this area are considered at least solid middle class if not lower upper middle class. There is not a large population of the homeless, or, I daresay, the hungry.

Still and so, Dunning admirably gives of her time to raise money for her ministry while preparing food for the hungry even if it’s very unclear from just where the hungry hail. Until ABC came in and built a new would-be soup kitchen down the road from me, Dunning used a donated church to serve her food, a church near a very active summer resort area but not close to residential communities. Over the years a “city” of tents has sprung up around the soup kitchen but it’s not been a huge problem in that this is an area serving transient populations in terms of summer-only residents and beach-loving tourists.

extremedunning.jpgMake no mistake that Sussex County, Delaware responded with zeal to this building of a new home with a commercially approved kitchen in which Dunning could legally make her soup. There were many citizen volunteers and the publicity was most welcome to help hype the beautiful nearby ocean resorts.

There were, as these things go, some issues.

First, where Dunning’s new home is located is not zoned the same as the locale of her other soup kitchens. Let’s be clear and up front here, Dunning’s new home is quite close to my own and I had concerns. Some might consider it selfish, a NIMBY (not-in-my-back-yard) attitude, but I did not want a big tent city near my home, my residence, the major thing of value I have acquired over my lifetime. In fact, I could not just open a soup kitchen in my house and serve anyone who happens to come along, nor could I open up my roof and build upward toward the sky to create a large hotel in my residential community.

Zoning laws exist for a reason and it’s certainly not to be mean to the homeless or unfortunate. We all live by them, we elect the officials who create/enforce them, they are the creation of common sense to protect the residences of individuals who often invest their life savings for a place to settle in to a quiet and happy life.

So why on earth didn’t Dale Dunning, or ABC, get the necessary permits before plowing ahead thoughtlessly with this project, no matter how noble it sounded at first glance?

It would turn out that they did.

A week ago, Dale Dunning was denied her application for a special exception to serve the “uninvited” in her house. The denial was issued by the local Board of Adjustments, as is the norm in our county. Understand that Dunning can make the soup in her new, legal, and greatly expanded kitchen, and port the food elsewhere to serve it. She certainly can invite guests to her home any time she wants and serve them there, as can I and my husband if we desired. The Reverend Dunning cannot serve “uninvited” guests in her home, i.e. she can’t have a soup kitchen as one might understand the more common usage of the term.

According to an interview of both the builders, Schell Brothers, and Mrs. Dunning, it was well known before a shovel of dirt was broken that the area was not zoned for her desired use. The area where Dunning’s residence is located looks more like the photo below than her current soup kitchens in the busy areas of the nearby beach communities. At the time, with a new and luscious home in the hopper, Dunning said she had no problem with the zoning restrictions, that she was fine with preparing her food in her new home and taking it to her various outlets to serve. The whole of that interview can be heard here.

82411extrememakeover1.jpg

So why is the Reverend Dunning appealing the ruling, now begging for an exception to the zoning, determined, as she says plainly in the interview, to “use these six acres that God gave her” to a better end? She agreed to the terms ahead of time as builder Chris Schell said in this interview, having met with ABC, the Dunnings, and many local Sussex officials.

Why the bait and switch, as one caller asks? Did she hope that the pressure of “doing good,” the publicity from the show, the political correctness of feeding the hungry, would override the local laws, all this AFTER the deed was done?

In the interview Dunning says, in what I consider a plain betrayal against what she knew before ABC ever pulled into Sussex County, Delaware, that she’s going to fight to feed the hungry no matter what it takes. Dunning also asserts, offhandedly, that her soup kitchens are as much of a social gathering spot as they are a place to serve food. This comment gave local residents pause, what with tent housing springing up around her other soup kitchens and visions of same in the more semi-rural, residential setting where ABC built her a brand new “soup ranch.”

Again, she certainly can feed the hungry. She has the necessary kitchen type — as ABC and Schell brothers DID obtain permits for and built to specification — to prepare food to feed the public. She can invite guests to her home and serve them just as I can. She cannot open those six acres, which would hold many tents if the imagination can envision, to anybody tramping down from Wilmington or Philadelphia to get the free food available down the shore.

It’s a very sad situation. Here we have one who purports to be a woman of God, breaking her word, using a form of political correctness to shut up those who obey the rules as locally zoned by declaring us not kind to the unfortunate — the unfortunate who do NOT come from the very upscale Lewes, Delaware and never did, as is also the case with the Dunnings’ other soup kitchens. As a variation on the old saying goes, give them free food and they will come.

The citizens of Sussex county were very kind to the Reverend Dunning, many of them volunteering to help build the Reverend's new home as is always the case on Extreme Home Makeover. My own church regularly contributes part of its offertory tithe to the Juust Sooup ministry. As a member of my church finance council, I always voted for such contributions. We had no problem with who came to sup; Sussex County, Delaware is a very Christian area and we live by the bible.

We now feel betrayed by Mrs. Dunning, and ABC, and even by our local brethren, the Schell Brothers. It appears that there was a plan to wear us down, to paint us as selfish scoundrels, even though everyone involved knew the rules and agreed to them well ahead of the project.

Enjoy the show, below is a pic of the finished project. So far it is a source of great pride to our area. I’m sure if Dunning needs volunteers to help her port her product to the locales where she is permitted to serve she will find plenty of willing citizens around Sussex County to help.

extremethankyou.jpg

Laws exist for a reason and even mighty ABC has no right to politically correct those of us who live within the laws to submission, especially when the rules were given and agreed to in advance.

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Pat Fish has been a blogger for almost ten years. She has been published numerous times in the Chicken Soup for the Soul and Cup of Comfort book series and wrote for Blogcritics. She has written a few books and vows to write till death does part her from the keyboard. Pat loves to write about current…

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