Home­less may eat from dump­sters, but they de­serve a higher stan­dard

Waterloo Region Record - - LOCAL - Luisa D’Amato ldam­ato@there­cord.com, Twit­ter: @Dam­a­toRecord

For 18 months, Michelle My­ers and a small army of vol­un­teers pre­pared food in their homes and gave it out each Sun­day to more than 100 poor and home­less peo­ple at Kitch­ener City Hall.

Then a few weeks ago, My­ers said, a food in­spec­tor came by and said her of­fer­ings of pasta, muffins, sand­wiches and sal­ads were not safe to give away.

Not be­cause any­thing was specif­i­cally wrong with it, but be­cause it hadn’t been pre­pared in a kitchen in­spected by pub­lic health of­fi­cials.

My­ers was, and is, ter­ri­bly up­set. She has can­celled the food give­aways, says she feels “men­tally ex­hausted,” and misses the “beau­ti­ful” in­ter­ac­tion with fel­low vol­un­teers and with the peo­ple she was help­ing to feed.

There are plenty of in­spected or com­mer­cial kitchens in churches and restau­rants in down­town Kitch­ener. But My­ers’ group, A Hand Up for the Home­less, had no funds to rent the space or pay for in­sur­ance.

She was of­fered free use of a com­mer­cial in­spected kitchen by a friend who owns a res­tau­rant in Cam­bridge. But she couldn’t fig­ure out how to get the hot food back to Kitch­ener in­ex­pen­sively with­out the tem­per­a­ture drop­ping be­low ac­cept­able lev­els.

So she packed it in.

“It breaks my heart,” she said. “It’s a huge thing, that food for them.” She feels frus­trated, too. “They’re eat­ing out of Dump­sters,” she said. “So come on with one de­gree, or two de­grees!”

Of course the pub­lic health in­spec­tors don’t see it that way.

“We rec­og­nize the need to pro­tect the health of all res­i­dents,” said Aldo Franco, man­ager of health pro­tec­tion and in­ves­ti­ga­tion for the Re­gion of Water­loo.

Food of­fered to the pub­lic, even if it’s free, must be pre­pared in an in­spected kitchen that meets safety stan­dards.

Of course kitchens in homes that are not in­spected can be spot­lessly clean, Franco said, but you never know. It de­pends on the home­owner. “There could be chil­dren in di­a­pers” in the food prepa­ra­tion area, he said. “There could be an­i­mals.”

The risk never goes away, but the in­spected kitchen makes it lower, Franco said.

“We want to make sure we min­i­mize the risk,” he said. “Th­ese (home­less) folks are in a tough spot. They’re a vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tion and more at risk of po­ten­tially get­ting sick.”

It’s rare to find a story that’s equally com­pelling on both sides, but this is one. The grass­roots as­so­ci­a­tion and the health in­spec­tors are each try­ing to pro­tect a frag­ile group.

It also gives a glimpse at the blurry line between un­of­fi­cial din­ner party and for­mal “food premise.” If you have a com­mu­nity potluck sup­per open to all in the neigh­bour­hood, Franco said, it’s OK to make the food at home be­cause it’s a pri­vate event.

But if you’re a ve­gan group and you say “All are wel­come” when you ad­ver­tise your potluck or of­fer sam­ples of meat­less dishes, that’s a whole dif­fer­ent story. Even if the food is free.

Per­haps A Hand Up for the Home­less should give out in­vi­ta­tions.

Cor­rec­tion: In a col­umn ear­lier this week about the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive party in Cam­bridge, I gave a wrong date for the meet­ing at which the can­di­date will be nom­i­nated. In fact, that meet­ing has yet to be sched­uled by the rid­ing as­so­ci­a­tion.

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