KC Health Dept. & group feeding homeless disagree over need for food permit

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- On Sunday, a group called Free Hot Soup was in Davis Park and three other locations feeding the homeless and the hungry.

The group sets itself apart from other organizations that feed the homeless, defining what it does as a potluck for friends.

KC police and the Health Department showed up and shut it down, threw the food away and poured bleach on it. The director of KC's Health Department said there's a very important reason that had to be done.

"E. Coli or salmonella or listeria can grow in the food,” Rex Archer said. “And then you give that to homeless people who are more vulnerable, they will end up in the E.R. and even die from that exposure."

To feed the public, you need a permit. The process takes one to two days and includes a several-hour class about food safety. It's free for groups who provide free food to the community.

Forty-three groups in Kansas City who feed the homeless have permits to do so. Free Hot Soup isn't one of them.

“We are not an organization, first off," said Free Hot Soup member Rachelle Burnett, who has been running the Davis Park operation for Free Hot Soup for three years.

She said they are simply feeding their friends.

“We don't have to have a permit to go have a birthday party in the park with our family and friends. Why would we have to have a permit to come here and have a picnic with our friends in the park?" Burnette asked of the homeless and hungry people she met three years ago. In that time the group has multiplied.

Archer takes exception to that.

"They were claiming they were having a family picnic at four different locations. I know some families may not get along, but to have their family picnic at four different locations didn't seem to be honest," he said.

Mayor Sly James issued shared the following post on his Facebook page:

Archer said besides diarrhea and vomiting that can be caused by food-borne illnesses, they can also lead to death.

"Back when I was in medical school in Maryland before coming back here, we had two people die in another county from food poisoning from a fundraising event, from a free group that did not maintain temperatures correctly, so this is serious," he said.

Burnett said her group is meeting to try and figure out their next move and make sure they do things legally. She also said permit or no permit, Free Hot Soup will be serving the public again next week.

It only takes a day or two to get a permit. There are two types of permits: a Food Handler Permit, which requires a 3-hour food safety class, or a Food Manager Permit, which is an all-day class. There is no fee for groups who provide free food to the public.

For more information on how to obtain a permit to serve food, click or tap on this link to the KCMO Health Department website.