It’s a known fact that life isn’t always fair.
While there always seems to be people who have everything handed to them on a silver platter, others face more hardships in life, and must deal with heartbreaking circumstances, such as poverty, homelessness, and malnutrition.
Luckily, there are also good people in the world that go out of their way to help those in need, like the volunteers at Free Hot Soup Kansas City, who distribute hot meals to the hungry.
However, what was intended to be a good deed turned into despair after the Kansas City Health Department inspectors confiscated the food and destroyed it.
“We got sick of looking and seeing people on the streets that were hurting.”
On November 4, members of Free Hot Soup KC were distributing dinners at Prospect Plaza Park, Ilus Davis Park, and Winner Park when inspectors arrived at all three locations and instructed the volunteers to leave the premises.
They seized the dishes, such as some-cooked chili, stacks of foil-wrapped sandwiches, and vats of soup into trash bags and doused them in bleach – so no one could return and recover the food.
Jennifer McCartney had been volunteering with the organization for three years and told KCTV5 News she works hard on paying it forward.
“We got sick of looking and seeing people on the streets that were hurting,” McCartney said, adding that Free Hot Soup KC also donates clothes to the city’s homeless community.
“We have hats and gloves because it’s cold and they have no home.”
McCartney said she and the other volunteers were left stunned when inspectors from the health department arrived and gave them their marching orders.
“There were so many people waiting in line,” she continued. “They told us we could throw away the meals or they would do it.”
However, the health department insisted that their orders didn’t come from a place of malicious intent.
“There is no question that feeding the homeless is critical.”
According to Kansas City Director of Health, Dr. Rex Archer, they strictly discarded the food to protect the public’s health.
“So E.coli or salmonella or shillelagh or listeria, etc., etc., can grow in the food. Then if you give that to homeless people who in particular that can be more vulnerable, they’ll end up in the emergency room or can even die from that exposure,” Archer said in an interview with FOX4 News.
He later told The Kansas City Star that he and the health department are aware it’s imperative to keep the homeless population fed, but Hot Soup Soup KC does so without a permit.
“There is no question that feeding the homeless is critical,” Archer said. “There are 43 organizations (not including Free Hot Soup KC) that have permits and do it in a safe way.”
He told the news outlet that Free Hot Soup KC had been told to stop their operations until they got a permit in September, but the group decided to carry on without one.
“We’ve always had a mutual respect. We don’t know what happened.”
Archer said the authorization is necessary, as the city can’t allow food to be served to the public, without official confirmation that the cooks are trained in safe food management, proper temperature controls and other defenses against contamination, and prepare the meals in an inspected kitchen.
He added that it’s a simple process to receive a permit, especially for organizations that assist the homeless, and all fees would be waived if they distribute the food free of charge.
However, McCartney told KCTV5 that this is the first time the organization heard the Kansas City Health Department had requested a permit.
“We’ve always had a mutual respect. We don’t know what happened. We don’t know what happened. It’s ridiculous. We’ve never had this issue ever,” she said.
Even the Kansas City Mayor Sly James released a statement on the matter.
“We have received a number of questions regarding the incident involving City of Kansas City, Mo., Health Department and Free Hot Soup.
While the group’s good intentions are appreciated, any organization distributing food to the public MUST abide by health standards and guidelines that are in place to protect the public from foodborne illness.
Those rules do not change whether someone is experiencing homelessness, or attending a charity cook-off. Many organizations in our community abide by these standards, and we thank them for their work.”
While the incident has caused a setback for Free Hot Soup KC, volunteers said it wouldn’t stop them from sharing food with those in need.