Local Government Bans Charitable Mealsby Doug Mataconis
Fairfax County, Virginia has told local churches and charities that they must stop donating prepared food to the counties poor residents unless the food was prepared in a county-approved kitchen:
Under a tough new Fairfax County policy, residents can no longer donate food prepared in their homes or a church kitchen — be it a tuna casserole, sandwiches or even a batch of cookies — unless the kitchen is approved by the county, health officials said yesterday.
They said the crackdown on home-cooked meals is aimed at preventing food poisoning among homeless people.
But it is infuriating operators of shelters for the homeless and leaders of a coalition of churches that provides shelter and meals to homeless people during the winter. They said the strict standards for food served in the shelters will make it more difficult to serve healthy, hot meals to homeless people. The enforcement also, they said, makes little sense.
“We’re very aware that a number of homeless people eat out of dumpsters, and mom’s pot roast has got to be healthier than that,” said Jim Brigl, chief executive of Fairfax Area Christian Emergency & Transitional Services. “But that doesn’t meet the code.”
That’s right, Fairfax County is effectively saying that they’d rather have a hungry person eating scraps out the dumpster behind TGI Friday’s than eating something you prepared in your own kitchen. Not surprisingly, local churches and shelters are saying that this will make it much more difficult for them to do their job:
“We see the reason for being certified. They want to ensure people’s health and safety,” said the Rev. Keary Kincannon of Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church in the Alexandria portion of Fairfax County, which will open as a hypothermia shelter for four months starting Friday.
“On the other hand, how much do you have to be a stickler with that?” Kincannon asked. “What’s more important: whether we’re open to have somebody get in out of the cold and get a meal? There’s kind of a balance there.”
The Rev. Judy Fender of Burke United Methodist Church said 50 volunteers had been planning to cook beef stew, pork loin and other nutritious meals in the church kitchen when it hosts the hypothermia shelter Dec. 17 through 23.
But she found out this week that, because the kitchen is not Health Department-approved, it will have to prepare its food elsewhere.
It will be a logistical nightmare, Fender predicted, and is an insult to members who have cooked meals for years in the church kitchen without any problems.
“Why do [they] think that the traditional way of fixing a home-cooked meal is going to poison people off the street?” Fender asked.
Because they’re from the government and they’re here to help.
Update 12/1/06: The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, perhaps realizing the stupidity of this proposal, has repealed it.