ATLANTA — Legislation allowing nonprofit groups to make sandwiches for needy children during the summer cleared the Georgia Senate on Feb. 20.

Senate Bill 345, dubbed the “Save Our Sandwiches Bill,” came after state health inspectors halted a Marietta-based summer food program after nearly 24 years of serving free homemade sandwiches to thousands of school children.

A technicality in state law barred the nonprofit MUST Ministries from receiving and distributing donated sandwiches, forcing the group to raise nearly $250,000 to keep the program afloat last summer.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, R-east Cobb, said it would fix the issue by allowing nonprofits like MUST Ministries to secure permits to operate free food programs for 12 weeks over summer and four weeks during the regular school year.

Nonprofit food programs could also receive donations of food made in church kitchens and businesses under the bill, provided volunteers in those kitchens follow basic food-safety rules such as wearing gloves and keeping preparation areas clean. Food prepared in homes could not be donated.

Squaring the MUST Ministries food program with state law would make sure kids in food-scarce areas will still receive sandwiches when school is not in session.

“This bipartisan bill … strikes a balance between public safety and the needs of hungry kids in our community,” Kirkpatrick said from the Senate floor Thursday.

The bill passed unanimously out of the Senate and heads to the House for a vote.

Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, will carry the bill when it reaches the House.

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Dr. Dwight “Ike” Reighard

Speaking to the MDJ Friday, MUST Ministries President and CEO Dr. Ike Reighard said he is thrilled with the bill’s progress, and can’t think of a better person to carry it in the House than Reeves, whom Reighard has known since the representative was a teenage intern at his church.

“We are very delighted to see how the bill has been progressing, especially the bipartisan support that the bill has garnered,” Reighard said, adding Kirkpatrick and former Gov. Roy Barnes “have been incredible” in their effort to draft the new legislation.

Reighard spoke to legislators when the bill was in committee, explaining its importance, and it got unanimous support there, he said.

On Thursday the bill passed in the Senate 53-0, with two ‘no-votes’ and one vote excused. All six of Cobb’s senators voted in favor of the bill.

“I’m excited,” Reighard said. “I just look forward to being there when Gov. Brian Kemp signs the bill into law.”

Georgia officials including Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan praised the measure as necessary to keep the doors open for critical food programs catering to underserved youth.

“The Save Our Sandwiches Bill provides a path forward for the important work done by community organizations that provide vital assistance to fellow Georgians across the state,” Duncan said in a statement.

— MDJ reporter Rosie Manins contributed to this article.

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