Georgia's Department of Public Health Is Going After a Charity That Feeds Hungry Kids for Using 'Uncertified' Kitchens

MUST Ministries has provided millions of children with free lunch sandwiches, but an old rule could change their program.


A Georgia nonprofit that has served food to low-income children during summer school breaks for the last 24 years may be unable to help kids this summer due to pressure from the George Department of Public Health.

MUST Ministries runs a summer lunch program to help children who qualify for subsidized and free lunches during the school year, but are at risk of going unfed when school is out of session. The group says it provided 7,600 children with 260,000 lunches last year, thanks to churches, businesses, and families who volunteer their time and home kitchens to make the sandwiches that MUST Ministries distributes. This summer, however, the group was informed by the Department of Public Health that it cannot distribute food prepared in uncertified kitchens. 

MUST Ministries President and CEO Dr. Dwight Reighard tells Reason has been in contact with officials over the rule, and that complying with state regulations on food preparation will financially hobble his organization. 

"This is the 24th year and we've served over 2.5 million sandwiches," Reighard says. "Never had a complaint." 

The problem, according to the Georgia Department of Health, is that MUST Ministry's sandwiches are prepared in the homes of volunteers. While MUST Ministries instructs volunteers to wear gloves and hairnets and to lay down wax paper for food prep, the department says this is not enough. 

"The Georgia Department of Public Health's goal is to work with MUST Ministries so they can continue to provide food/sandwiches to children during the summer, and to other organizations that serve the homeless population," Nancy Nydam, DPH's director of communications, wrote in an email. "If food is made in homes, which DPH does not regulate, there are no inspections or checks to ensure safe preparation and handling, and what is contained in the food."

DPH says that MUST Ministries can obtain permits for the various volunteer kitchens, make its sandwiches on site, distribute packaged meals from a food service company, or cater the meals. If MUST Ministries wanted to use its own permitted kitchen, the department would require that it be overseen by an employee or volunteer with a Certified Food Safety Manager certificate. But the group cannot continue doing what it's always done, regardless of how many kids stand to benefit. 

Reighard says that the department has not clearly defined to him what a "certified kitchen" is, but that MUST Ministries has its own kitchen and, with time to plan, could get the church's facilities certified in time for next year's program.

But the 2019 summer lunch program has already begun and Reighard estimates that it will cost $250,000 to replace old sandwiches and store new ones. Even without new financial obligations imposed by the health department, MUST needs an additional $75,000 in donations to operate for the remainder of the season.

"It's not like we're doing this every week. We're trying to do it during a critical time period that teachers ask us to help cover," Reighard said.

Reighard says he's been approached by Republicans, Democrats, and Libertarians who stated a willingness to try to pass legislation to exclude charity feeding programs from "these types of barriers."

Reighard, who is also a pastor, believes that the government should allow good Samaritans to help their communities.

Feeding America, a nonprofit network of food banks, estimates that of the 22 million children who qualify for free and reduced lunch while in school, less than 4 million students benefit from the USDA Summer Food Service Program. That leaves some 18 million kids to navigate food scarcity during the summer. 

"I don't think the government's supposed to be the one that's out there doing all the feeding and trying to take care of people," Reighard says. "I just hate to see people demotivated because you've just got layers of bureaucracy that say that you can't take something that's on your heart and actually do it. That would mean that if you decided you wanted to make 15 or 20 sandwiches and you wanted to drive down to a place where you knew that there were some homeless people hand them out, you'd be in violation."

The group has now started a "Save Our Sandwiches" campaign.

Related link: Here are just six ways the government went after good works last year.

NEXT: Supreme Court Orders Oregon To Reconsider Gay Wedding Cake Case

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. They are doing this to reduce the likelihood that children will die of food poisoning.

    1. Except no children have died of food poisoning from this mission.

      1. If children have to starve in order to keep them from foodborne pathogens, it’s a sacrifice that our benevolent government is willing to make.

        1. Save the children! No uncertified sandwiches!

          1. That should be “Starve the children!”

    2. I’m sacrificing this goat to increase the likelihood of a good harvest this year.

    3. You know what HAS caused major food-poisoning outbreaks? Health-inspector certified, high-capacity commercial kitched/food-processors with undetected issues. You know what will NEVER cause a major outbreak? A whole bunch of separate, independent home kitchens each making a small number of sandwiches.

  2. Mmm, over the last 24 years how many children have died from food poisoning due to the sandwiches?

    Since I did not see any numbers cited as part of the justification for the crackdown, I am pretty sure that there are none.

  3. This is a charity. People who believe in government see no need for charities, because government is all. There is no room outside of government for anything else. Government is mother, government is father. If there is a gap or an oversight it is because government is not yet big enough to encompass all.

    1. Far too many people believe that.

  4. You are correct in believing that government employees see no need for and have little or no tolerance for agencies outside of their government. One of the definitions of government is that it has a monopoly on force. This is just an extension of that belief.

    1. A monopoly of force naturally extends to a monopoly of everything? It shouldn’t but it unfortunately does because authoritarians of both red and blue types are unable to perceive of anything outside the bounds of Sacred Government.

  5. Once upon a time, there was a pastor who stood up to unjust laws. He openly defied the governments who wanted to oppress its citizens, and when arrested and convicted, served his time. Maybe if people of faith would put their faith to work even in the face of unjust laws, while widely publicizing the unjust oppression, this madness would quiet down.
    Serve the sandwiches, encourage the congregation to stand between the hungry and the oppressors, phone cameras proudly running, and let freedom ring.
    A few nights of newcasts showing cops beating down Christians for being Christian, showing the government starving children and maybe the 2020 election will be a lot more than a Trump referendum.

    1. I laugh, your right but it won’t happen they will lay down like the sheep Americans are unless they were serving illegals then there would be hell to pay.

    2. Yes there was such a pastor and I am not a Christian.


      If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday
      Isaiah 58:10

      And from the Christian scriptures.
      For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.
      Matthew 25:35

      For the atheists here. These were words written long ago by people. They are preserved as ancient wisdom. One need not believe in God or theology to understand them.

      There is power in those words.

      What do I know. Bring up your children and teach them well.

  6. “Georgia’s Department of Public Health Is Going After a Charity That Feeds Hungry Kids for Using ‘Uncertified’ Kitchens.”

    TRANSLATION: The Georgia bureaucrats didn’t get any of the taxpayers’ money from this charity, so they’re going to close it down for “the sake of the children.”

  7. “””The Georgia Department of Public Health’s goal is to work with MUST Ministries so they can continue to provide food/sandwiches to children during the summer, and to other organizations that serve the homeless population,” Nancy Nydam, DPH’s director of communications, wrote in an email. “‘

    Hey Nancy, the easiest way to complete that goal is to step away and do nothing.

    1. Note that it is only a goal – – Nowhere does she actually pledge to work with the ministry.

  8. I repeat teh government does not like competition particularly when the competition does a better job. They can’t outlaw it so they regulate it out of existence

  9. At least they didn’t pour bleach on the current load of food. Was that GA as well?

  10. […] Georgia’s Department of Public Health Is Going After a Charity That Feeds Hungry Kids for Using ‘Uncertified’ Kitchens ReasonMUST Ministries has provided millions of children with free lunch sandwiches, but an old rule could change their program. […]Read More […]

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.