Bobby Eustace, an 11-year veteran of the FDNY, has been handing out hot, home-cooked meals to relief workers and residents of the storm-torn Breezy Point, Queens, for weeks. But last Sunday, he was met by an unexpected foe: a Department of Health inspector who issued a notice of violation and fine warning to his all-volunteer food-donation outpost.
“He asked if we’d registered with the Department of Health,” said Eustace. “I said no, this was a tailgate food giveaway. He said the mayor’s office sent him down to check on the food dispensaries. I’m dealing with hungry women whose homes are being bulldozed and he wants a license to give her a bowl of chili. I asked him where you got a license to feed hungry people and give out bottles of water during a tragedy.”
The health department, for its part, said the violation notice was a mistake. “inspectors will not be using that form anymore,” said a spokesperson. “Inspectors will only be advising people in storm-affected areas on how they can better serve food without spreading food-borne illnesses.”
Though the city has done some to loosen the bureaucratic reins on food donations in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, it appears there’s still some work to do.