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Handing Out Food To Homeless Could Be Illegal

By Amanda Hara  | News Channel 5

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - An act of good will could be illegal when it comes to handing out food to the homeless. A state law aims to protect the health of Nashville's needy, but some are concerned it's pushing away help.

The law does not apply to religious or civic groups, which are really the biggest agencies out there feeding the homeless. However, it does impact average people working alone who put together sack lunches, and hand them out on the streets of Nashville. 

A new state law says if you don't have a health certificate, handing out something as small as a cheeseburger could get you a ticket. 

"That puts the police department in a real awkward position because we know that people are trying to do a really good thing. They have their hearts in it and we don't disagree with that. We think that it is a good cause at heart," said Metro Police Commander Damian Huggins. 

Every Wednesday the Downtown Presbyterian Church feeds lunch to the homeless, which is perfectly legal.

"Part of me hates to say you can't reach out and do good, at the same time it takes more than good intentions to do things well," said Downtown Presbyterian Church Pastor Ken Locke. 

The Church undergoes routine inspection from the Health Department and takes regular courses on food safety. The concern is not everyone does. 

"We are dealing with people who are chronically sick. We are dealing with people who are chronically malnourished, who have vitamin deficiencies, and it would be really horrible if any of them got food poisoning," said Pastor Locke. 

One person has been cited, but police said that's because she flat out refused to take the food safety class before returning to hand out food. 

Police said they're goal is to inform people about the law and how they can get certified. They said that writing citations will be a last resort. The health department's food safety course takes about two hours to complete, to enroll email [email protected] 

email: [email protected]

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