Food Freedom

A Woman Set Up a Little Free Pantry Without a Permit. The County Threatened Criminal Charges.

A civil rights lawsuit alleges that the government violated Kathy Hay's constitutional rights when it shuttered her free pantry.


It started with a bowl of chicken noodle soup and a desire to help the community. It ended with the government threatening criminal charges.

"For 16 years, our family struggled with food and security, and a lot of people don't understand how hard it is if they don't struggle with that," says Kathy Hay, who notes she is in a much better financial place now. "I'm always looking for ways to help people that are having a hard time."

Inspired by the leftovers from a pot of chicken soup she'd made, Hay started researching ways to start a little free pantry in her Asotin County, Washington, neighborhood. In December she set one up in her backyard, replete with refrigerated food, canned goods, and produce—all available for free to those struggling to make ends meet.

Akin to little free libraries, these makeshift pantries popping up across the U.S. invite local participation, allowing passersby to donate edible goods. "The community really responded positively to it," says Hay. "It was exciting."

The excitement was short-lived. In February, the county health department dropped by to tell her and her husband that they needed to immediately desist operations, because Hay didn't have a permit. If they refused, the county threatened to pursue criminal charges. 

What's more, getting that license wouldn't be sufficient to reboot the pantry. She would have to pay a fine. She would have to cough up an annual fee. And she would have to abide by a laundry list of regulations more appropriate for a large-scale distribution center.

Among the requirements were a slew of packaging regulations. Canned items needed to have a commercial label that traversed the full circumference of the can, for instance. Fresh foods—from apples and oranges to bread—were prohibited entirely. She would need to set up a separate collection spot where she screened every item, a rule anathema to the basic concept of a little free pantry. She would have to create, print, and distribute flyers explaining what can and cannot be donated. She would need to elevate the pantry above the ground, disqualifying her cupboard setup, though the health department "wouldn't be specific about how high it needed to be," she notes.

Now the Institute for Justice has filed a civil rights lawsuit on Hay's behalf, as well as on behalf of two women who benefited from the free pantry. The suit says the county infringed on Hay's constitutional rights when it stopped her from giving away food on her own property, and it alleges that it likewise violated the two beneficiaries' constitutional right to accept private charity.

"The regulations that the County wants Kathy to follow actually hurt the people they are intended to protect," says Caroline Grace Brothers, a constitutional law fellow at the Institute for Justice. "The food in Kathy's pantry poses no more threat to its beneficiaries than the food at a roadside farm stand with an 'honor box.' Yet Kathy has to follow pages of regulations to share food in her own backyard, while produce stands are allowed to sell food without interference."

It almost goes without saying that Hay's efforts would be particularly helpful at this juncture. Washington was the first state to report a COVID-19 case. Clarkston, the working-class town where Hay lives, already sported a 20 percent poverty level before the coronavirus struck—considerably higher than the national average.

So Hay is hoping for a speedy resolution. "The ideal outcome would be for the county to let me and anybody else who would like to have a little free pantry to be able to open one up," she says, "without being afraid that they're going to be charged with criminal behavior."

NEXT: Past Crises Have Ratcheted Up Leviathan. The COVID-19 Pandemic Will Too.

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  1. “The regulations that the County wants Kathy to follow actually hurt the people they are intended to protect,”

    No, they are intended to protect the petty tyrants of government, and they do that as long as people accept them.
    To the barricades!

    1. Please hold your horses. Would you trust the supposedly charitable actions of a person acting out of benevolence instead of the profit motive? I wouldn’t! That’s why I’ll never visit a hospital or school run by those filthy Roman Catholics. Only the government or for-profit institutions can be trusted to provide to the people of America.

      1. Silly Rabbi! Kicks are for Tridds!

          1. I would never click on anything you ever linked, it I a, curious. Does this link include a video of your suicide?

            1. Jesus dude. He’s not a cop or a politician. Save the “you should commit suicide” comments for the right folks. Like Retiredfire.

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    2. “Did you really think we want those laws observed?” said Dr. Ferris. “We want them to be broken. You’d better get it straight that it’s not a bunch of boy scouts you’re up against… We’re after power and we mean it… There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced or objectively interpreted – and you create a nation of law-breakers – and then you cash in on guilt.

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  3. We can’t have hungry people risking the miniscule chance of ingesting a foodborne pathogen. Best to let them starve instead.

    1. After the apocalypse (whether it be zombie, nuclear, space aliens, vampires, or other), there will be Government Almighty “helpers” helping us to survive, by insisting that any recently-animals that we find (or kill), MUST be properly meat-inspected (by Government Almighty “helpers” of course) before we can eat them!

      I have no idea HOW our cave-persons ancestors EVER survived w/o Government Almighty “helpers”!!!

      1. They carved their lung flutes from wood using primitive stone tools.

        1. Yes, this!

          Maybe after the apocalypse, we will be TOTALLY forbidden to use ANY sound waves to clear out our mucus! Perhaps COUGHING ITSELF will be forbidden, for our protection!

          1. You should refrain from any for, of breathing.

    2. You mean, the same people who of their own free will dumpster dive and eat what they find, are at higher risk in taking canned and pakcaged food from this generous woman’s back yard?

      Those count dweebs need to get a life. They don’t have one now. Their heads are too swelled up to be working properly.

  4. Should have put up a sign “Free to cops and our heroic First Responders only.”Then they would have been lauded on every TV news report.

    1. No doughnuts though. That would just piss the cops off

  5. Without government to stop people from helping the poor, who would stop people from helping the poor?

    Also, isn’t this the state that passed a $15 minimum wage? Haven’t they solved their poverty problem? Nothing to see here, move along.

  6. No good deed goes unpunished.

    1. Didn’t a government bureaucrat say that?

  7. So typical. I would tell the county, no problem. Let everyone starve. Problem solved.

  8. This deserves to be on the next installment of ‘Returning the Favor’, hosted by that Saint of the Libertarian Party Mike Rowe.

    Don’t even know if he is Libertarian, don’t think he’s ever claimed the name, but he sure seems to piss off the same people as libertarians so he can’t be all bad.

  9. But sell crack and the “authorities” turn their cheek. Try and help your fellow man and it’s fines and possible jail. Isn’t out corrupt Gov’t. wonderful!

    1. No matter what, it is never ‘their’ cheek the bureaucrats are turning… or spreading.

  10. “Food insecurity,” not “food and security.” Man, do I hate the editing here sometimes.

  11. You can get arrested in CA for standing too close to someone else:

    “32 arrested in California Capitol protest demanding end to stay-at-home order, CHP says”
    “We are 100 percent willing and able to go back to work with precautions and with greater restrictions, but we need to go back to work,” said Jennifer Erin Freitas, a nurse and aesthetician. “Our government is killing our economy.”
    Read more here:

  12. But maybe the CA population will grow a spine:

    “California Democrat blasts Huntington Beach protesters: They ‘undoubtedly spread the virus’ ”
    “Reports on Friday estimated that there were more than 500 people who turned out in Huntington Beach to protest after Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) closed Orange County beaches in response to massive gatherings last weekend that went against stay-at-home orders.
    Orange County had previously opened its beaches, and even after the large gatherings drew a rebuke from Newsom, the city of Newport had voted to keep them open.
    Protesters on Friday were heard chanting “freedom” and “no more Newsom.” Some carried signs lamenting the need for a hair cut, while others held signs calling to reopen businesses so people could get back to work.

    Up yours, greaseball.

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  14. Tales, such as this, immediately remind me of the enormous supply of sympathetic slavers who are more than willing to carry out these injustices. It took a snitch, a department supervisor, and at least two department “officers” to address this “problem”, and a compliant hoard of swat members willing to act if compliance wasn’t achieved. All these eager to serve the government for “the greater good”. Recent revelations about the behavior of the FBI and Justice Department assures you this mind set goes clear to the top. If there is anyone remaining that doesn’t believe gulags and ovens are not possible here, surely he is beginning to perspire. There will never, ever, be any shortage of willing brown shirts available merely for the price of a “job”.

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  16. Over my dead body…Molanlabe…it’s in my yard, it’s all commercially packaged, government can go to hell before I pull mine down… luckily, our local reps aren’t that dumb…
    (This is what’s left after the daily rush, normally it’s much fuller!)

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