The Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission is doing its part to help free holiday meals for the poor be more affordable for organizers.

The Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission is doing its part to help free holiday meals for the poor be more affordable for organizers.

A commission majority voted on Monday night to waive rental fees for the group Sons to Glory/Men of Thunder Ministries, which is using parks-department owned Pioneer Hall for the meals. The rental fee for the building on Winburn Way across from Lithia Park is normally $31 per hour.

The group will use Pioneer Hall from 2 to 6 p.m. for a post-Thanksgiving meal on Sunday. After Christmas, the group will use the building again from 2 to 6 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 27.

The total savings from the rental fee waiver is $248.

The religious group will still have to pay a deposit of $300, which is refundable if Pioneer Hall is cleaned up well after the meals.

Group representative William Hayes said he will deliver a short religious message and probably pray over the food.

Parks Commissioner Jim Lewis said although he was a little uncomfortable with waiving the rental fees because of the religious message, he favored doing so.

"The work they do in general is so positive," he said.

The group also hosts weekly potluck meals under a gazebo in Lithia Park. During the winter, the potlucks are at 3 p.m. on Sundays, according to the group's Web site.

Parks Commissioner Melody Noraas agreed that the group does good work. She joined Lewis and Commissioner Mike Gardiner in voting to approve the rental fee waiver.

Parks Commissioner Rich Rosenthal and JoAnne Eggers voted against the move, saying they would rather have seen the rental fees charged but the $300 deposit waived.

Hayes said a waiver of the $300 deposit would have been beneficial as well, since putting down the deposit ties up money that could be used for other needs, such as buying Christmas presents for people who come to the meals.

In explaining why he didn't want to waive the rental fees, Rosenthal said, "Separation of church and state is important to me. It's inappropriate for the commission to subsidize this message."

But Hayes said it's important for poor and homeless people to hear a message of hope.

"People need more than food. People need more than shelter," he said.

Hayes said different religions, from Christianity to Buddhism, have a message that people should look beyond themselves and give to one another.

"I think that's the center of any community," he said.

For several years, the Parks Commission has gradually been raising fees for the use of parks department-owned facilities in order to cover more of the cost of managing those facilities.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.