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Cobb legislators work to save food program

By Rosie Manins

rmanins@mdjonline.com

A program by a Marietta nonprofit to provide sandwiches for hungry children may be saved by a law change being pushed through the Georgia General Assembly by Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, Reast Cobb. The “Save our Sandwiches” or “SOS” bill, SB 345, was introduced by Kirkpatrick in the Senate on Jan. 31 and passed unanimously out of the Health and Services Committee on Wednesday, to be placed on the Senate calendar for a vote. Kirkpatrick says she’s trying to get it passed through the Georgia House and signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp before the end of this legislative session. It would allow MUST Ministries, a Marietta-based nonprofit that has been serving vulnerable and homeless people for almost 50 years, to continue the sandwich program volunteers have been running for the past 24 summers.

See PROGRAM, A6

Kay Kirkpatrick

Ike Reighard

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Over the decades, thousands of children every year have received free homemade sandwiches through the initiative, with MUST providing over 200,000 lunches in several counties annually while serving about 7,000 children every weekday during summer break.

In 2019 the nonprofit was forced to raise almost a quarter of a million dollars to buy the sandwiches for the program, after it was discovered that wording in current state law prevents volunteers from making sandwiches in kitchens that aren’t state certified or supervised.

“My understanding is that during a county health inspection their sandwich program was brought up and it turns out that it did not meet the strict letter of the law that’s regulated by the state department of public health,” Kirkpatrick told the MDJ on Thursday. “The sandwiches being made offsite was a problem, and being delivered to other locations, like an apartment complex or trailer park. All of that needed to be spelled out differently in the law and the rules of the department of public health in order to continue that program.”

Kirkpatrick said she started working on the bill last year with MUST Ministries and the state departments of public health and agriculture when it was determined that nothing would resolve the issue but a law change.

“The community stepped up last summer and (MUST was) able to raise the dollars to do (the sandwich program), but unfortunately, that’s not something they can sustain on a long-term basis, so it needed a fix,” she said.

Kirkpatrick said former Gov. Roy Barnes helped her work with all parties over the past summer and fall to draft law changes that enabled MUST to continue its sandwich program without breaching state standards.

The SOS bill would allow nonprofits, like MUST, to be exempt from rules pertaining to other food service establishments, providing they have a local government permit that ensures food is safely and hygienically prepared and delivered.

The bill won’t result in dodgy food service, Kirkpatrick said.

“We’ve been very, very careful of that all along the way, that’s why it took nine months to get the bill ready to go,” she said. “Some of the changes are cleanup language the state departments of public health and agriculture wanted.”

She said State Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, will carry the bill when it gets to the Georgia House, if it passes the Senate vote, which should be in the week starting Feb. 17.

“I really think we’re getting close, it didn’t have any trouble getting out of committee in the Senate yesterday,” Kirkpatrick said. “We’re out of session now for the next couple of weeks so it’s probably going to take a few more weeks.”

Kirkpatrick made sure the bill is enacted upon signing by Kemp, so MUST will have time to prepare its sandwich program for the coming summer break.

“We are hearing more and more from our partner schools that children dread holidays because they know they won’t have any food,” said MUST Ministries President and CEO Ike Reighard in a statement emailed to the MDJ on Thursday.

Reighard said the nonprofit is “deeply indebted” to Kirkpatrick and others helping to move the law changes forward.

“It blessed me personally to see people rally around a cause that has bipartisan support,” he said. “When you are taking care of children, people want to help support you. The outpouring of spirited generosity that helped us bridge the gap last year in purchasing sandwiches was amazing.”

Reighard said the proposed bill wouldn’t allow the sandwiches to be made at volunteers’ homes, but would allow sandwiches to be made in kitchens at churches, clubhouses and businesses that adhered to health and safety guidelines.

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