City Council Passes New Rules for Charitable Feeding, Wins Praise from Good Samaritans

Joan Cheever of The Chow Train praised the ordinance's passage. - Carlos Sanchez
Carlos Sanchez
Joan Cheever of The Chow Train praised the ordinance's passage.
The unanimous passage of an ordinance setting regulations for feeding San Antonio’s hungry and homeless won applause from both city officials and the charitable feeding community yesterday.

Before, there were few guidelines for when and where Good Samaritans could feed those in need. As a result, charitable feeders were sometimes pestered by police, particularly in the downtown area, for failing to meet certain rules in the city's food code.

That culminated on April 7 when Joan Cheever, who operates The Chow Train, a mobile charitable feeding service, received a $2,000 citation for operating a food truck without a license. She had one, but was distributing food out of her pickup truck that night, which is more easily maneuvered.

The ticket was later dismissed, but the attention it received catalyzed a city-wide conversation about how charitable feeders ought to be treated and regulated. After months of discussions between Good Samaritans like Cheever and city officials, the new ordinance was proposed. Here are its main features:

-At least one person preparing the food must be a certified food handler or a certified food manager.

-Charitable feeders must also notify the city within 24 after an event. City staff explained that this is so that any potential food poisoning could be tracked back to its source.

-Charitable feeders must ensure that all trash at the site of the event is properly disposed of.

-An event may not interfere with traffic.

-The regulations only apply to events where four or more people are being fed.

The original ordinance contained several items which Cheever contested, particularly a provision that would require those delivering the food to have food handler’s safety training. Her attorney distributed a letter to members of the City Council before the meeting on Thursday stating that the requirement was illegal because it put a higher burden on charitable feeders than on restaurants and caterers.

City Attorney Martha Sepeda said that the ordinance had been amended so that only those preparing the food had to have the training. Cheever was pleased with the city’s willingness to revise the ordinance.

“It’s a victory for the charitable feeding community, and I think it’s a victory for the city too,” Cheever said. “The group of individuals we serve, they’re still going to be hungry. But what it does is it allows us to serve without looking over our shoulder.”

The new rules will be reassessed after a six month grace period. Councilmember Joe Krier requested that both city staff and charitable feeders report back to City Council at that time with any recommended revisions.


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