Georgia legislation based on the 25-year MUST Ministries Summer Lunch program was signed into law Wednesday. Dubbed the “Save Our Sandwiches Bill”, named after the MUST campaign last year, allows nonprofit groups to make and accept sandwiches for at-risk children when schools are closed.
Senate Bill 345 was developed after state health inspectors halted the MUST summer food program that has been serving 5,000-7,000 children in seven counties during a 10-week span. A technicality in state law kept MUST from receiving and distributing donated sandwiches and forced them to raise more than $250,000 to continue to serve children in need.
“Sadly, the news came to us right before the summer started and we had little time to reorganize our plan and raise the money. To be honest, it was a nightmare for our team, but we couldn’t walk away from our youngest hungry clients,” said Dr. Ike Reighard, Pres. and CEO. “Fortunately, our donors, the media, our legislators and really the whole community rallied behind us and started working to change the law and help us get through this trying time.”
This year, the legislature was almost to the point of passing the bill when COVID hit and the session was postponed. MUST again had to scramble to purchase meals and work with USDA to get some donated, but the children were fed.
“We thought last year was difficult, but it was only a warm-up for 2020,“ Reighard said. “The good news is that the legislature came back in session and soundly put the bill through. Next year we can accept sandwiches from churches, businesses and other groups that have kitchens. The only change is that we can no longer accept sandwiches made in homes.”
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, R-Marietta, explained that the SOS Bill will allow nonprofits like MUST Ministries to secure permits to operate free food programs. Kitchens providing food must follow a list of health safety rules, like wearing gloves and keeping preparation areas clean. Reighard said MUST was already carefully following those rules.
“We are so blessed that we have never had an incident with our food,” he continued. “In 25 years of feeding more than 2 million meals, our children have found help and hope in Summer Lunch.”
Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, carried the bill to the House and was also instrumental in its success. Reighard pointed out that the Cobb delegation was persistent and kept in touch with him during the process. “Their efforts mean so much to thousands of hungry children.”