If you want to prepare a home-cooked meal for the folks staying at MUST Ministries’ Elizabeth Inn shelter, you won’t be able to do it at home.
That’s after the Cobb and Douglas Public Health Department told the charity it can no longer accept meals prepared in home kitchens. MUST and the health department held a meeting with volunteers to discuss the change April 13. The same rules apply to all charitable organizations, and MUST spokeswoman Kaye Cagle said they put the plan in place immediately.
“The health department told us after a recent inspection that we could no longer allow volunteers to cook meals for the homeless unless it is done in a certified kitchen like ours, or a church, restaurant, grocery story deli, etc,” she said.
Volunteers had previously been cooking meals at home and bringing them in. Cagle said about 100 meal providers help prepare three square meals for those staying at the shelter 365 days a year.
She said MUST will not fully know the impact on the services it provides until the plan is fully underway, as some volunteer groups come out one day a month and have not experienced the changes yet.
Among those volunteers is Theresa Ireland, who cooks meals with about 15 other members of her small group at North Metro Church in Marietta. Their task is to cook dinner every first Sunday.
Ireland said the change may be slightly inconvenient, but will not stop her or the other volunteers from pitching in.
“I totally understand why the health department has made us aware of these issues because there are so many things that can possibly happen that we wouldn’t do, but could accidentally happen with the preparation of food. … we’re not upset, we just realize it’s a change we need to comply with.”
Ireland said some trickier parts of the change involve dishes that take longer to cook, like some desserts, because each volunteer group only has so much time in MUST’s kitchen. She said she predicts MUST guests will be served a lot more prepackaged, quick-cooking items like hot dogs and frozen dinners.
The North Metro Church group also volunteered to make about 300 sandwiches for MUST residents who are out of the shelter for lunch, working or applying for jobs.
“We’ll still be making the sandwiches, but we’re going to need to find a place that is health department certified, so that’s a little bit of an issue,” she said. “Worst case we will be going down to their place to prep. Normally, we would meet and have Bible study and make sandwiches at the same time.”
Ireland said some bigger churches have kitchens that are health department certified, but North Metro does not.
But she said the changes will not stop her group of volunteers, at least.
“We are still excited about it, we still want to work with them, we still want to pursue it,” she said. “It’s easy to write a check, but it is harder to go out and actually do the work, to be the hands.”