A Methodist church in West Virginia was stymied in its efforts to help the needy last week when the county health department told them their plan violated state health codes.
The parishioners at First United Methodist Church had decided to install a large refrigerator outside their building that those in need could access at any time. Anticipating concerns about food safety, they planned to stock it with only prepackaged food, and built a cage around it to prevent small children from climbing inside.
“We just wanted a way for more people to have access to food, along with some privacy and a little dignity,” Rev. Shauna Hyde told the Charleston Gazette. “It was just a wild idea.”
Too wild for one bad samaritan, who filed an anonymous complaint with the Jackson County Health Department before the fridge had even been stocked. Two days after they set it up, the man came knocking on their door.
“Attorneys had assured me that on our own property we could have a fridge,” Hyde said. “[The health department] cited so many rules and regulations that it just blew my mind — it was everything from an unmanned refrigerator to different food codes, different FDA codes, and I was astounded.”
Health department officials aren’t eager to be painted as the bad guys, however. “Our concern with this church was never providing for the poor; we think that’s very noble,” said JCHD employee Jonathan Graziani. “It’s just making sure that the food is safe… A refrigerator is not to be left outside. They’re not made for that — rain, snow, sleet, even heat can be an issue in operating a refrigerator.