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Richmond food insecurity project faces obstacles with health department

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Posted at 2:22 PM, Apr 30, 2021

RICHMOND, Ky. (LEX 18) — When a group of residents wanted to give back to the city of Richmond and help tackle food insecurity, they didn't expect to face so many hurdles.

There wasn't much inside a large wooden box that sits outside of Craft Restaurant & Artistry, there wasn't much Friday morning. But owner Ashley Gallaher says that's not necessarily a bad thing.

“There was more stuff in there earlier this week. We didn't put it there,” said Gallaher. “The community put it there and then community members came and took what they needed and that's the way we want it to work.”

However, the pantry used to be a community fridge before the people behind the project faced some hurdles. First, the fridge was stolen twice. Then Gallaher says the Madison County Health Department had concerns like making sure the fridge model was meant to be outdoors. She says while there's pushback, there isn't a lot of clarification about what exactly the health department wants. She says she and others are trying to get answers.

“There's not really legislation written specifically about refrigerators being outside for community use, which means there are not really any rules for it or against it,” said Gallaher. “So, it becomes this kind of gray area where it's sort of up to the local officials to decide whether or not it's a thing that they want to allow in their community and I just think it's a shame that we've not been able to work together with our health department to figure out a good solution.”

For now, the fridge was sold and a pantry takes its place. Gallaher says they'll continue to work to bring a community fridge to the city to help those in need and hopefully spark a conversation about food insecurity in the area. Gallaher says anyone interested in helping with the pantry can email richmondcommunityfridge@gmail.com or reach out to her over Facebook.

The Madison County Health Department released a statement about its concerns with the project. Health Environmentalist III and Retail Food Specialist Woody Arvin says the community fridge would not be allowed under current statutes and regulations, including the inability to constantly monitor the unit to ensure no food tampering occurs, conflicts with other agencies regulating various food products such as meats, and the location of the unit near garbage/waste containers, which creates "an ideal environment for rodent, insect, and bird infestation." Arvin says this information is supported by the Food Safety Branch of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

The health department says it's open to further conversations with project sponsors about moving the project forward in a safe manner.