Local Governments Play Scrooge To Stop People from Helping the Needy

Do you have a license for that refrigerator stocked with free food?


It wouldn't truly be the Christmas season here at Reason without a report about officials trying to shut down a project to help the needy. This year's tale comes from Roslindale, a suburb of Boston.

There, as the coronavirus pandemic played out, residents looked for ways to help the needy in their neighborhood. A group of volunteers started putting together a community food pantry, salvaging groceries from local stores before they'd be tossed out as waste. A local therapist agreed to host the group's fridge and freezer in her backyard. The group was serving more than 50 people every Friday.

Then local officials came calling. The Boston Inspectional Services Department warned the volunteers that they were operating an "illegal food pantry" and that they could, if they continued, face $1,000 fines and a year in prison.

The department insisted this was all about safety. Officials told The Boston Globe that they were happy to "work with the organizers of this operation to make sure the food being offered is safe for recipients." But that's what they said after the newspaper contacted them. The therapist, Rachel Stanton, told the paper she had asked the authorities for help to bring the pantry up to snuff, but they seemed mostly interested in shutting her down. That's not how officials behave if they a mutual aid project to continue. It is how they behave if some of Stanton's neighbors have been complaining.

The volunteers moved the pantry to a nearby elementary school, in hopes that this would satisfy the government. And now that the group has gone to the press, the authorities seem to be a bit more conciliatory. But it's telling that even when an epidemic has stretched government services to the limit, officials' first instinct was to try to shut down what they can't control.

These tiny food pantries are on the rise across the country, being a simple, easy way to help people. Roslindale isn't the only place where they've run into trouble. Earlier this year, a woman who launched one in Washington state was shut down and threatened with fines. (She then filed a lawsuit with the assistance of the Institute for Justice.) Other pantries have been shut down in California and Pennsylvania. Officials usually justify these crackdowns by citing health concerns, but when you look deeper you usually find that the underlying problem is people who either think the pantries are eyesores or don't like it when the needy congregate.

Bonues video: In 2012, ReasonTV showed how the mayor of Philadelphia tried to stop charities from feeding the homeless in public parks:

NEXT: Is Anthony Fauci Right That Federalism Undermined the U.S. Response to COVID-19?

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    1. Then again, with the farm subsidies to the brave corn farmers of Iowa, the phrase should probably be “Let them eat high fructose corn syrup”.

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  1. And all of this wouldn’t have happened of course if the fucking state governments had kept businesses going instead of forcing them to close for no reason.

    I sincerely hope 2022 is the year of election reckoning because many politicians need to be kicked out.

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  2. 50 people is a crowd in a residential neighborhood, I can tell you that. Sure people can do what they want on their property, but if your neighbor has a crowd of people coming by for gibs, it’s not something you’re going to enjoy for long (if ever).

    1. Well yeah it’s a problem, nobody is wearing a lifesaving mask in the picture. They will all be dead in a week.

    2. 50 a day. One day a week. Either its for a couple hours and then done or its spread throughout the day.

      Either way, I’d think it would be manageable and not destroy the neighborhood.

  3. I wouldn’t call Roslindale a suburb of Boston. It’s a less dense part of the city, but within city limits since the 19th century.

    Several years ago the city earned some bad press by soliciting charitable donations of food and then threatening to fine the donors for not getting a permit to give food away.

  4. But it’s telling that even when an epidemic has stretched government services to the limit, officials’ first instinct was to try to shut down what they can’t control.

    The pandemic response is about more control, not less.

  5. now that the group has gone to the press, the authorities seem to be a bit more conciliatory.

  6. Government is simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together.

    1. I thought that was callee Only Fans dot com

  7. Seems that a complete lack of shame is a requirement for government work. How else could these assholes destroy lives and sleep at night? They’re worse than the occasional homicidal cop because they do this to hundreds of people every day.

  8. Boston
    Washington (state)
    Isn’t there a common thread of which party rules those areas?

    “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice; and let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

  9. It’s perfectly legitimate for government to keep charity services out of residential neighborhoods, where they will ruin the neighborhood for everybody by attracting bums. Better, though, for the people there to regulate it themselves by privatizing places like parks so they can ban them.

    1. Was thinking that too. The taxpaying local residents are the rightful owners of local public spaces. If they want to keep those spaces clean, orderly and free of bums, I think they have every right. If you want to host bums, do so on your own property at your own cost.

  10. Those ?heart-felt?, ?sympathetic? lefties are pissed that someone besides their Gov-Gods (gun-power theft) are providing charity, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me!”

    If it’s not THEFT by gov-gods-guns it should be illegal!

  11. We have a small social club with several elderly members. Before COVID they would come in every afternoon for a beer or a glass of wine. They would talk or play cards and we would make sure that they got a good meal in them. We have a few members who are nurses and would come in at about the same time after they got off work. More than once one of the elderly members would be taken to their doctor or the emergency room because one of the nurses saw something. When we had to shut down the first time we would go in on Sundays and make up food packages and take them to them. Well someone thought that we had the club open and turned us in. We eventually cleared it up, but, ended up with a visit from a Government employee who wanted to know why these people were not registered with her office. I said that they didn’t want to be and was told “We (her office) would get funding for them!” There it is in a nutshell. There’s money to be made in them there charities. If these people are helping these people out, some charity or Government Department is losing funding. That’s what’s behind this. Just look at the Governor of Pennsylvania telling people to apply for State assistance. The State gets FEDERAL funding for this. That’s one of the reasons given for the shutdown. Wolf has said that we can’t recover too quickly or else we lose Federal funding.

  12. I commend the desire to help the less fortunate, but it would be better to give non-perishables in peelable or resealable containers, dispensed in bags or boxes at an adequate social distance, and without an unsupervised refridgerator or freezer. Children can and do crawl into refrigerators and freezers and suffocate to death. Needless to say, a very serious attractive nuisance/liability issue for a charity.

    Broadcast stations in the Appalachian regions have to do frequent Public Service Announcements telling people to lock up or block open refrigerators and freezers left for disposal.

    A garbage can for disposal of waste containers would be a must too if people eat and drink on the premises.

    Other than this, the basic idea is wonderful and government needs to stay out of the way, their phony-baloney jobs be damned.

  13. Government wants people dependent on it for it’s own power and control.

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