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Feeding The Hungry
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Why It’s Illegal To Feed The Homeless

By James Donahue

Some years ago my wife and I had a hobby of vending collectable dishes and miscellaneous items at a Saturday morning flea market in downtown Port Huron, Michigan.

As anybody who has sold at flea markets will tell you, the experience can provide a fun-filled day with family and friends. Nobody makes much money but we all have fun socializing with the other venders, sometimes buying and trading our wares, and dealing with customers who want to barter over the price.

Most flea markets feature the sale of coffee, doughnuts and other food products that the venders rely on for meals and snacks throughout the day. This little market in Port Huron had one vender who came each noon with delicious meals that we all enjoyed so much we didn’t bother bringing a lunch.

Then one day the meals stopped coming. We learned that the city health department shut them down because they were in violation of city health codes. While the food was prepared in a home kitchen, that kitchen did not meet city and state regulations that called for stainless steel sinks, dishes and stoves and a license for operating that involved regular inspections by state officials.

Laws like that were on the books for good reason. Even some well-run restaurants sometimes get into trouble when toxins accidentally get into the food served. Michigan was well known as a state that made sure people who served food to the public were working in a clean environment and we could enjoy a fine restaurant meal without worrying about getting poisoned by salmonella, listeria, E coli, campylobacter or some other food borne bacteria.

If you have ever had “food poisoning” you know the symptoms can be severe enough to sometimes put victims in the hospital.

While it makes sense to have tough food laws on the books, the fact that they are being strictly enforced is making it very hard for people of good will to reach out with food for the many cold and hungry homeless people now living on the streets and in tent communities in most of the nation’s cities.

The elderly Florida man who kept getting arrested because he refused to stop feeding the homeless in his community is a case in point. The case made national headlines. The man meant well, and perhaps it would have been best if his good efforts were ignored by city authorities. But he was in violation of the law.

The best way to help these people is to provide public food banks and shelters that give comfort. Many church groups like the Salvation Army are already doing this. But with so many people out on the streets now, the demand is great. It is time during this holiday season to think about ways of resolving this terrible crisis . . . not just at Christmas but all year long.