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A bill that passed the House and awaits final action in the Senate would exempt volunteers from the requirement to have a food handler's permit to dish out meals to the homeless.
Sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, HB176 comes in response to health-department regulations that have thrown a wrench into volunteer-provided meals in Salt Lake City's The Road Home.
When the homeless shelter and aid organization learned of the health rules and informed volunteer groups, it lost 39 volunteer groups. As a result, the organization missed out on an estimated 5,850 donated meals, according to The Road Home's community relations director, Celeste Eggert.
Eggert says the family shelter has kitchens where families can cook their meals, But "families are trying to save every penny so they can get into an apartment," Eggert says. "They're not able to save if they have to buy food."
Eggert says the organization's winter-overflow shelter in Midvale received no donated meals in January and February and clients were referred to St. Vincent de Paul's dining room, which serves free meals to an estimated 700 people per day.
Pamela Atkinson, who lawmakers called the "Mother Teresa of Utah" in a recent hearing, said the regulations increased the demand for meals at St. Vincent de Paul's and she thinks it's much better, especially for families, if they can eat in the shelter. "It's hard for children to be in a huge crowd," she said.
HB176 attempts to fix the problem by exempting volunteers from needing the food handlers' permits. Eliason said Monday that volunteers will have some training on food safety. He also said that in 30 years of volunteers providing food in the shelter, there hasn't been a single case of food poisoning or foreign objects found in the food. .