Chick-fil-A is opening its first full-service restaurant in Manhattan tomorrow, and as part of the grand opening they're offering the first 100 customers free weekly meals for a year. That promotion comes with a number of stipulations, including proof that you reside "within a 30-mile radius" of the restaurant. Ostensibly this is so "local" customers score the deal, but it also ensures that homeless New Yorkers, many of whom could really use a weekly hot meal, can't qualify. And so, one activist is taking action—she's urging people to help get homeless individuals a spot on the line tonight, in hopes that the corporation will let them enter the meal lottery.
Artist/activist Jaime Sunwoo has launched a Facebook event rallying people to help the homeless enter to win the promotion. Chick-fil-A's rules require a U.S. government-issued ID, a recent bill, or a bank statement to enter the lottery for the free meals, which is open to the first 300 customers who stand on line starting at 6 p.m. tonight (Friday) until the restaurant opens at 6 a.m. tomorrow. Sunwoo is calling on protestors to help inform homeless New Yorkers about the promotion, help them stand on line, convince other line-waiters to donate their spots to a homeless person, and use signs and other "positive" protest methods in hopes of convincing Chick-fil-A workers to let line-waiters enter even without the required proof of residency.
Sunwoo told us she decided to launch the protest after seeing comments online about Chick-fil-A's apparent tone-deafness in holding such a promotion, considering the rampant homelessness in the city. "They're kicked out of establishments left and right," Sunwoo said. "Today it's raining, yesterday it was raining, they have nowhere to go. To see a bunch of people who are waiting in line in the rain for food for 12 hours, I thought it might be insensitive since there are homeless people probably on that block."
Though she's aware it might be difficult to convince Chick-fil-A's management to let the homeless enter despite their ineligibility, she hopes the owner's Christian background might have some sway. "If [CEO Dan Cathy] is going to uphold those Christian beliefs, he won't be able to refuse these homeless people," she said.
She pointed out that the homeless aren't the only ones who'll be unable to take advantage of the deal. "There are people who can't afford to stand in line or wait for 12 hours inside the restaurant," she said. "It's really a luxury to be able to do that, and it's psychologically damaging for the people who can't." Earlier this week, Sunwoo spoke with a woman who lives in a shelter in Harlem and has identification from the city of New York—because her shelter has a 10 p.m. curfew, she's unable to stand in line for the promotion. "She said, 'I have a valid I.D. and I still can't do it," Sunwoo told us.
Even if the company refuses to let the homeless enter, Sunwoo hopes they'll get some temporary relief. "[I]t's going to hurricane on Friday night so it's a great way for homeless people to have shelter and food for the night (100 out of the 300 people waiting on line before 6pm are going to be housed and fed inside the restaurant)," she posted on Facebook. She also told us that she hopes the event calls attention to some of the problems homeless individuals face in the city. "One man...said he's always felt voiceless and he thought this was a great opportunity to maybe voice these concerns beyond Chick-fil-A," she said.
The line closes at 6 p.m. tonight—Sunwoo, who says she's spoken to at least 20 homeless individuals who plan to stand in line, will be outside the store's location at 37th Street and 6th Avenue at 5 p.m. to help rally "positive" protestors.