From Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal (Subscription required):
This Thursday, in a parish hall not far from the New Jersey town green where George Washington once made his winter headquarters, as many as 300 people will gather for their Thanksgiving meal. Some will be homeless, some will be mentally ill, some will be old, and some will be folks and families who have just hit a hard patch. For all of them, Morristown’s Community Soup Kitchen and Outreach Center is one of the few blessings they can count on.
In many ways, this soup kitchen illustrates Tocqueville’s point about the American genius for voluntary association. Having started out in a local Episcopal church, it has grown into a network that links restaurants, corporate sponsors and community groups with volunteers from nearly three dozen church congregations, including this reporter’s. The result is a hot meal to anyone who comes to the door each noon, no questions asked.
This the men and women of the Community Soup Kitchen have provided for 26 years, not once missing a day. Now comes a challenge greater than any snowstorm or power outage. Earlier this year, the Morristown Division of Health ruled that henceforth the soup kitchen would be considered a “retail” food establishment under New Jersey law.
From that single word far-reaching consequences have flowed. In a column for a local blog, Ray Friant, a volunteer from the Morristown United Methodist Church, called the rule “crazy.” Over Sunday breakfast at a local diner, Mr. Friant, his wife, Emmy Lu, and another church couple who also volunteer at the kitchen, Barbara and Jim Morris, spell out what they mean by crazy.
Most obvious is the higher cost: at least $150,000 more a year. To meet this increase, the kitchen is asking each participating church to up its own contribution. Some congregations don’t have the money. For those that do, it will mean less for some other need.
Much of this cost results from a new prohibition on people donating food they’ve prepared at home. For those on the giving end, often this was the only way they could participate, so eliminating their contributions means eliminating volunteers. For those on the receiving end, it means no more homemade meat loaf, lasagna, cakes and so forth.
All, of course, in the name of food safety. Still, one suspects that when a co-worker brings a tin of Christmas cookies to a friend inside Morristown’s Division of Health, those cookies are not forbidden because they do not come wrapped from a supermarket or approved restaurant. Yet this is precisely the restriction these officials have imposed on men, women and children whose only hope for a home-baked cookie might be at the soup kitchen.
Finally, there’s the utter soullessness of the thing. For example, many of the women would bring their own aprons from home. No more. Now it’s all latex gloves, throw-away aprons, and a ban on food servers even entering the kitchen. In short, more institutional cafeteria than Grandma’s house…
The column goes on, but you get the point. If you think something like this only happens in New Jersey, I know of a non-profit in Delaware that had a similar prohibition placed on it, negatively impacting its religious purpose.
Government has a necessary purpose. Keeping food from the poor and needy is not one of them.