Rodents close Milwaukee food pantry

Unwanted visitors forced the closure of a Milwaukee food pantry. The city says it is partly due to an ongoing rodent infestation.

Food is Free MKE near 56th and Townsend is being forced to shut down operations due to a zoning violation and rats.

"Hundreds of people, this is their main source of food," said Syeeda Tatum-Hensen.

Food is Free MKE has been a resource for those in need. 

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Tatum-Hensen does not run the operation but owns the home where the food shed is located.

"Nobody asks you any questions. You just take what you need," she said.

Neighbors say it has attracted a community of unwanted visitors.

"It’s being overrun by rats," said Dianne Kennedy, neighbor. "I don’t mean four or five rats. I mean hundreds of rats."

Sylvilla Banks uses the pantry and says the neighborhood rat problem is nothing new.

"There was rats here before the pantry got here. Seriously!" said Banks.

"Absolutely not. Absolutely not," said Renee Laird, neighbor. "Our neighbor who has lived here 20 years, no. I’ve lived here a decade. No."

Laird lives next door. She has killed dozens of rats and says rats have chewed through car wires and left droppings all over the place.

"We are homeowners," said Laird. "This is a nice, clean, and now, we have this rat infestation. We have a 24-hour free rat food buffet and it has to go."

As people filled the pantry, city leaders confirmed Food is Free MKE was directed to cease their operation by end of day Monday, July 26. The commissioner of building inspection said it is due to a zoning violation as well as the ongoing rodent infestation.

The organizer of Food is Free MKE did not respond to a request for comment from FOX6, but neighbors are sharing their thoughts.

"Condemn it," said Kennedy. "Shut it down. Burn it. We’re just sick of these rats."

"We appreciate her trying to help, but it just shouldn’t be here," said Laird.

The owner of the house said she and the woman who runs the operation plan to meet with the city in September.

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