'Don't feed the skateboarders,' Bradenton police tell family

Bradenton police tell family to cease feeding visitors to Riverfront Skatepark

rdymond@bradenton.comMarch 5, 2013 

BRADENTON -- A woman and her family who have been feeding hungry skateboarders every Sunday at Riverfront Skatepark in downtown Bradenton were told by police to pack up their operation.

Jim and Michele Tejkl of Bradenton, who call themselves The Family, were issued a verbal warning from the Bradenton Police Department on Sunday for cooking and dispensing free food at the park without a permit.

Michele Tejkl, who expressed disappointment, hurt and confusion over the warning, said she and her husband, and sons, Chris, 7, Cody, 9, Casey, 13 and Cheyenne, 14, just decided three months ago to reach out to skateboarders with about 300 free hotdogs from 2-6 p.m. every Sunday.

A donation jar to defray the food cost is put out and usually has about $30 in it at Sunday's end, Michele Tejkl said.

"These kids don't have much money," Michele Tejkl said. "We end up putting about $150 of our own money into food each week."

The Tejkls say they donate food and time because they have always been around skateboarding and grew up in Bradenton.

"Riverwalk is a dream come true for us," Michele Tejkl said. "We noticed that some of the kids out here were getting stressed at each other. We decided to talk to them. My husband and I said to each other, 'Why don't we offer food and mentor them?' It has worked. We ask them to pick up trash at the park in return for food."

Because of the warning, the Tejkls will still come out next Sunday, but won't bring food, Michele Tejkls said.

On Monday, a Bradenton official said while the city wants volunteers like the Tejkls who passionately embrace the park, guidelines for their activities are not yet in place, leading to Sunday's unfortunate event.

"I think what Michele is doing is exactly what we want the community to do," said Dave Gustafson, project manager on Riverwalk and executive director for the Downtown Development Authority.

"We couldn't ask for better partners.

"But, realistically, there has to be a procedure for every activity," Gustafson added. "Technically, without a permit you are not supposed to cook out there."

Bradenton Police Department Officer Jose L. Santos noted Sunday he saw a table set up underneath the First Street Bridge with hot dogs, chili, a crock pot, a box with apples inside it, a burner to cook the hot dogs and an electric cable plugged into a lamp post, powering the burner.

He also saw a donation jar containing money.

"Mrs. Tejkl informed me that she did not have a permit for this activity," Santos reported.

Michele Tejkl said she explained to Santos that she was not selling but giving. She said that Santos seemed determined that they would have to leave.

A call to the Bradenton Police for a comment was not immediately returned.

There are no vendor permits at Riverfront yet, not even a guideline for donations, so Santos was just doing his job, Gustafson said.

Gustafson said permits and guidelines for Riverfront could be on the city agenda by this spring.

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