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Archive for Saturday, September 27, 2003

LINK has close call with closing

Official targets home-cooked meals

September 27, 2003

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A Lawrence organization that feeds the city's poor and homeless found its existence briefly threatened by a state official Thursday.

Lawrence Interdenominational Nutrition Kitchen officials were told by a state health inspector to cease serving food prepared in private homes. But the meals that LINK serves are donated by at-home cooks, members of more than 30 churches and community organizations.

The order would have forced LINK to shut down immediately.

"The essence of what LINK is, we say, is that this is a home-cooked meal," said Herman Leon, vice president of the organization's board. "Everybody was saying, 'LINK is going to be closed.'"

That won't happen.

By Friday morning, officials at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment had reversed the inspector's order and called it a misunderstanding.

"We're not interested in closing it down," said Lisa Roberts, director of the Bureau of Consumer Health. "It's an important part of the community."

LINK operates year-round in the basement of First Christian Church, 211 W. 10th St., serving lunch on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. More than 120 people a day receive meals, officials said.

Roberts said the inspector visited LINK Thursday after the bureau received a complaint. Once on-site, the inspector became concerned whether foods were being stored at appropriate temperatures -- if the hot foods were hot enough and the cold foods cold enough to prevent bacteria growth. Leon said some moldy cheese was found.

"She announced to me she had found fault with our refrigerator, that things weren't cold enough," Leon said. "Which we sort of knew, but nobody'd ever gotten sick in our place."

LINK officials were alarmed, however, when the inspector said the home-prepared meals were prohibited.

"We can't function if we're going to have to buy all our food and cook it in the same spot," said the Rev. Randy Beeman, First Christian's pastor. "I felt that was a big issue for our community. There's nobody else who's doing what we're doing."

Friday morning, Beeman called the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Officials there quickly reversed course, Beeman said, noting that LINK is a nonprofit, volunteer-driven organization not required to meet the same rules as restaurants. Roberts said education and training would be offered to the kitchen volunteers.

"Once I reached Topeka, they were very cooperative," Beeman said. "I have nothing but praise for the process."

The incident created concern among LINK's guests, he said.

"The worst thing is that there was some panic among our guests at LINK that we were going to be shut down," Beeman said. "We don't need that rumor."

The Salvation Army also serves lunches, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday each week.

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