- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 21, 2002

VIRGINIA BEACH (AP) A home-based charity here has become a victim of its own success.
Since 1989, Brenda McCormick's white-shingled house has served as command central for Mothers Inc., a charity she formed to help needy single moms and their children. People drop off blankets, clothes, food and other items, sometimes leaving the donations in a gray Rubbermaid bin the size of a mini-dumpster on her front porch.
A week ago, city officials filed misdemeanor charges against Miss McCormick, saying her operation was in violation of the city's zoning ordinance.
The volume of traffic and other activity there, officials said, far exceed what is allowed in the residentially zoned neighborhood, located just a few blocks from the ocean and containing a mix of apartments, bed-and-breakfasts and single-family homes.
The case against her is scheduled to be heard June 25 in Virginia Beach General District Court. The maximum penalty is a $1,000 fine.
Even so, Miss McCormick, 54, who said she does the work to fulfill her Christian belief in helping the poor, voiced little inclination to heed the city's warnings.
"They can arrest me and put me in jail; I don't care," she said last week. "Then I guess I'll be doing jail ministry. God put me here; God will move me. They just don't understand."
Neighborhood complaints prompted the city to take action, said Karen Lasley, the city's zoning administrator. "I think what's happened is she's gotten so successful and big, she's having more of an impact on the neighborhood," Miss Lasley said.
Until residents raised questions, Miss Lasley, the city's zoning official for the past 1 years, said she was unaware that Mothers Inc. was run out of Miss McCormick's home.
Miss McCormick, though, calls that "ridiculous," saying her high-profile efforts to aid the homeless are well-known across the city. Mothers Inc. works in a dozen of the city's poorest neighborhoods, serving an estimated 2,000 families, she said.
A "neighborhood mother" in each of the areas picks up donated clothing and food from Miss McCormick's house and distributes it to those in need, she said.
The group focuses on single mothers and their children, who Miss McCormick says are the largest segment of the city's homeless population.
"George Bush is telling everybody to be compassionate and do faith-based initiatives, and the city is slamming us. What's up?" Miss McCormick asked.
Miss Lasley said she sympathizes, saying the charges against Miss McCormick were filed only as a last resort.
Neighborhood complaints about the heavy activity at Mothers Inc. surfaced at Thanksgiving, she said. In the months since receiving the complaints, Miss Lasley said, city officials offered to help Miss McCormick find another location where donated goods could be dropped off, but they were rebuffed.
"The city has really tried to help her find solutions, but she hasn't been very receptive," Miss Lasley said. "She's known she's been in violation since before last Christmas. She just hasn't done anything about it."

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