Public health officials have asked MUST Ministries to stop accepting food prepared by volunteers at their homes.
The Marietta-based charity had been using homemade food brought in by volunteers to feed the needy in Cobb County at its facility where it offers shelter and meals to the homeless or needy.
Karen Gulley, the environmental health county manager in Cobb, said the health department learned of the practice and decided to educate the volunteers.
The Cobb & Douglas Public Health Department held a meeting April 13 with local organizations that provide food to MUST Ministries, informing them that they must prepare any food intended to be served to the public in a facility that is inspected and certified by the health department. The rule applies to any nonprofit serving food to members of the public.
MUST Ministries has a kitchen at its Elizabeth Inn shelter at 55 Elizabeth Church Road certified by the county health department, so volunteers can prepare meals there, said Kaye Cagle, MUST’s vice president of marketing and public relations.
Cagle said Saturday’s meeting with the county health department drew 38 attendees representing local churches, companies and civic clubs. They were informed that they would have to prepare any meals they want to serve to MUST clients on-site.
In total, about 100 volunteers prepare meals and serve breakfast, lunch and dinner to clients at the Elizabeth Inn location.
“God bless them because they come in at 5 in the morning to do breakfast,” Cagle said of the volunteers.
One volunteer group from St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Cobb have changed their meal preparation as a result of the health department’s request. Joe Fenton, who coordinates the church’s MUST breakfast ministry, said the volunteers were originally preparing meals at home and taking them to MUST Ministries to be served in its kitchen. About 55 church members regularly prepare and serve breakfast four times a month at MUST, Fenton said.
“With the changes the health department has requested, we are now cooking on-site,” Fenton said. Wednesday was the first time the volunteers used MUST Ministries’ kitchen to cook breakfast for clients. The transition went well, as the group prepared 13 dozen eggs, grits, tater tots, bacon, turkey sausage and biscuits.
Fenton said he doesn’t question the health department’s regulations, as they are in place to protect public health. However, he noted the church could possibly have volunteers who may “drop off” because they may find traveling to MUST’s kitchen to be more cumbersome than cooking food in their own kitchens.
“The response I’ve got from my volunteers has been very positive, and I’m hopeful we’re going to be able to provide the four meals,” Fenton said.
Gulley said in their meeting with MUST volunteers, Cobb health officials stressed the importance of the food-preparation regulation, which she said is in place to keep food-borne illnesses at bay.
“We have a good community spirit here in Cobb County,” Gulley said.
With locations in Canton, Marietta and Smyrna, MUST Ministries offers food pantries, clothes closets, employment services and other support for those in need. For more information go to mustministries.org.
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