Permit rule stops couple's effort to feed homeless, Health Dept. responds

Published: Jul. 18, 2011 at 8:14 PM CDT|Updated: Dec. 15, 2014 at 1:17 AM CST
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Margaret Luger and her husband have spent two years providing food to homeless people in downtown Lubbock every Monday. They feed them, leave behind no trash and hand out warm meals, Margaret Luger says.

Now, that may change because the city shut down their efforts Monday for lack of a permit. City officials say the they must obtain one or they will be fined.

"We come out here to help the poor and what do you do, the city turns around and complains about it. It's not right," Nathan Luger said.

"We just think that they don't want us down there feeding people because they are targeting the homeless," said Luger.

"I don't want to go to heaven and have the dear Lord say to me you failed to feed my people who needed food when you have plenty," Luger explained.

For the last 19 months the Luger's have fed the homeless at Overton Park in downtown Lubbock, but on this Monday city officials showed up and told them they had to stop.

"We got a complaint that there was a group feeding the homeless out here and they had no permit," Villareal said.

After our story aired we received endless emails, facebook messages, and phone calls from viewers who wanted to help the couple. KLLL Radio even talked about the subject during their morning show. "We even had to stop our phone calls because we were just getting too many calls. Our lines were blowing up, " KLLL on air personality, Kelly DeAngelo said.

Many viewers had questions about whether or not a complaint was ever made to the Health Department, so we went with your questions to the Health Department.

"We got a complaint that's said these people are cooking food in their house and giving it out so that triggered the investigation," Code Administrator, Stewart Walker explained.

It also triggered questions from you about whether there ever was a complaint.

A copy of the complaint says the complaint call was received at 8:37 AM but assigned to an inspector at 8:34 AM. That means the complaint was assigned to someone 3 minutes prior to the call ever being received.

"He would have started the complaint and then entered it. That's the time it was recorded when it was put in the system," Walker explained.

Walker says the system records the time when an employee enters the information.

Many viewers also asked why it was ok to picnic with friends, but not ok for this couple to feed the homeless?

"Because there's no guarantee that there feeding the same people every Monday. If they can give us some kind of guarantee that they are feeding the same people we can work with them. However, if they are just feeding anyone who walks up that has to be permitted," Walker continued.

The Health Department says at the end of the day everyone is held to the same standard.

"Why shouldn't we hold these folks to same standards? Just because they're serving the homeless? We need to make sure all food is permitted and everyone is held to same standard," Walker said.

Anyone serving food for public consumption, whether for the homeless or for sale, must have a permit, said Ernest Villareal, a Health Department inspector. To get that permit, the food must be prepared in a certified kitchen.

The Lugers cook the food in their home, and the city says that is a violation.

The group was visibly upset when the Health Department arrived to shut down their lunch on Monday. "We come out here to help the poor and what do you do? The city turns around and complains about it. It's not right," Margaret Luger and her husband said.

"If the food's been made at their home it's not permitted for them to feed the public. They can't do that," Villareal explained.

"They're just doing this 'cause we're homeless. It's prejudice and discrimination," Lubbock homeless resident Willie Sanders said.

"We're out here to make sure food is handled correctly and no one gets sick," Villareal continued.

"If we are not feeding these people, they're eating out of a dumpster," Lubbock resident Sarajim Howe explained.

The city says anyone serving food to the public needs a permit. According to the City of Lubbock's website, the only exceptions are non-profit organizations like soup kitchens and charitable organizations that sell prepackaged food.

"They are in violation. They are not a permitted group," Villareal said.

Officials say the Lugers are in violation because they don't cook their food in a certified kitchen.

"You're preparing something in your own home, and you decide to put something in - let's say poison - the person you're giving it to probably has no idea and could possibly die. We're here to protect that," Villareal said. 

"Other groups are here and the city said, 'Well, they're families or they might be a frat group or a bunch of friends and that's fine. But when homeless are here, it seems to be a problem," Howe said.

The Lugers think the homeless are being singled out.

"The City of Lubbock would like to get rid of them. They'd like them to dissolve and go away so then they won't have a problem," Luger explained.

"It makes me angry that we can't feed people one day a week," Howe said.

Margaret plans to try and get a permit, but hopes she will be able to continue to serve the homeless next week.

"I don't know. I'm going to try my best to continue someway somehow."

Copyright 2011 KCBD NewsChannel 11. All rights reserved