One week after Kansas City health officials busted up several picnics for the homeless, the cooks and their meals returned Sunday afternoon.
This time, the volunteers with Free Hot Soup KC were ready if health officials returned with their trash bags and bleach, said Nellie McCool of Merriam.
“Everybody was ready to stand up for themselves,” she said. “We’re prepared to face the law.”
This time no health officials interrupted the food gatherings, she said. And police, who had been asked to help keep the peace during last week’s shut-downs, also let them be.
McCool was one of several volunteers who returned to Prospect Plaza Park in northeast Kansas City.
Others gathered at Winner Park near Independence and Ilus Davis Park downtown.
The city had shut down last week’s gatherings, trashing and bleaching much of the food, because the food was not prepared in licensed or approved kitchens and was considered a public safety risk, the city’s director of health, Rex Archer, said last week.
The shutdown of the food operations also touched on the ongoing tension in communities where many people who are homeless gather.
Gatherings around public meals in various settings have stirred debate on how to help people in need while addressing neighborhood concerns over safety.
It was that debate — on trying to keep a city from becoming more divided — that inspired many of the volunteers to return, McCool said.
“We don’t want to be split by economic hardship and racial disparity,” she said. “We want to come together. And this is one way we can do it.
“We can do it over a meal,” she said, “at a park, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.”
Some of the volunteers work in food businesses and had their food handler permits with them, just in case, McCool said.
They also brought food thermometers to be ready to show that hot soups, meats, chili and other meals were safely cooked.
It was unknown Sunday what health department officials thought of the group’s return.
After last week’s action, Archer, the health director, said Free Hot Soup KC has to follow the city’s codes for food establishments when they feed the public.
The city would help them meet the requirements, he said, and if they couldn’t meet them, there are 43 organizations in the city who do, and they could support some of them.