MUST Ministries summer lunch program hits health snag

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With just a few days left in the school year, MUST Ministries must now scramble to make changes to its summer lunch program.

The Cobb County-based nonprofit has provided sack lunches to thousands of children who qualify for free and reduced school lunch for more than two decades. Included in those lunches were homemade sandwiches provided by volunteers. The Georgia Department of Public Health, however, learned about the donated sandwiches during a recent kitchen inspection at MUST and notified the organization that they can no longer accept those sandwiches.

"The heartbreaking part is that the volunteers are the core of this program. They are what makes it happen," said Ike Reighard, the CEO of MUST Ministries.

Under Georgia law, the food must be prepared in a certified kitchen under supervision.

"We do feel like this can be done in a safe manner and our goal is not to shut this down," explained DPH Director of Environmental Health Chris Rustin. "It's to allow them to provide the service in a different manner that ensures that critical food safety issues are controlled for."

MUST has decided the best way to address the issue is to purchase pre-packaged sandwiches from a vendor at $0.75 each. They hand out anywhere from 6,000 to 7,000 sack lunches every day in the summer, which means they need to raise about $225,000 to fill the bags. To donate, you can visit MUSTMinistries.org or email SummerLunch@MUSTMinistries.org.

Reighard said they can still accept donations of juice boxes, crackers, pretzels, fruit cups and other snacks for the program.

"MUST's summer lunch program – a 23-year tradition – is going to continue right on," said Reighard.

FOX 5 Atlanta has partnered with MUST Ministries on the summer lunch program for several years.