Suspicious fire closes Indianapolis center dedicated to feeding those in need

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – An early morning fire currently under investigation by the Indianapolis Fire Department and Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department has forced the closure of a community kitchen dedicated to feeding the less fortunate on the south side.

Investigators were called to the Compassion Center in the 2600 block of Shelby Street around 3:30 a.m. Tuesday. The fire just inside the building’s front window was already out when responding crews arrived. The front window was shattered and a set of curtains inside the window had been burned, leaving scorch marks on the interior wall and smoke damage in the front area of the building.

While the cause of the fire remains under investigation, organizers at the Compassion Center believe they were targeted by an arsonist.

Pastor Ray Hampton, who runs the kitchen, says he and others at the center found a large rock inside the window. They believe someone smashed the window with the rock before lighting the curtains on fire.

“It’ll be a month at least before we can reopen,” Hampton said. “And board of health has got to see everything and be sure it’s okay.”

Hampton, who turned 90 years old Tuesday, believes the fire was started by a disgruntled man who was recently told to stop coming to the Compassion Center. He says the man was told he would no longer be fed at the center because of recurring complaints from neighboring businesses about the man’s behavior. The complaints, Hampton said, describe the man loitering and causing trouble outside their business entrances.

Hampton admits he can’t prove his claims about the fire.

“But we think we know, because he made a threat yesterday to some of the other people that he was going to do it,” Hampton said.

In the aftermath of the fire and pending repairs, Hampton’s main concern is for the scores of homeless and low income people in the Garfield Park area who rely on the Compassion Center for regular meals. Hampton says the kitchen serves roughly 4,000 meals every month.

“I feel sad, of course, because there’s some people come in here that really need it,” Hampton said. “They come in, they eat, and they leave.”

Larissa Riddle says she comes to the Compassion Center for a meal about once every week and was shocked to learn of the fire.

“That means if I don’t have no money, I probably won’t eat that day,” Riddle said. “I feel like it’s wrong because people come here to eat that can’t afford food.”

One man, who did not want to be identified, said he comes to the center nearly every day for a meal.

“We’re just going to have to go other places to get food,” he said.

The same man expressed concern for homeless friends who spend their days at Garfield Park waiting for the kitchen to open.

“We start worrying about our elders in the park,” he said. “A lot of them, this is where they come to eat every day.”

IFD officials said Tuesday the cause of the fire remains under investigation.

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