|Written by Greg Ruland|
|Thursday, 03 March 2011 00:00|
For the time being, area nonprofits may continue to serve free hot meals at Riverfront Park pending a meeting with city officials to determine how the group can obtain $1 million in liability insurance as required by law, Cottonwood Parks and Recreation Director Richard Faust said.
Known as Hearts for the Hungry and Homeless, the coalition of nonprofits, mostly churches, serves free hot meals to an average 120 people at Riverfront Park each week, Verde Valley Food Council Director Sandy Cravens said.
The city raised concerns about the gathering, which operates under park ramadas Fridays at 5 p.m., because city ordinances require the host of such an event to have liability insurance to protect the city from lawsuits.
“As you know, we live in a very litigious society,” Faust said. “It’s just rampant.”
Even so, the city doesn’t want Hearts for the Hungry and Homeless to cease operations. The city and coalition should be able to work out a solution, he said.
“Even the mayor has to go through all this procedure in order to conduct mayoral activities at the park,” Cottonwood Mayor Diane Joens said.
“It’s not the city trying to be mean, it’s the city trying to protect the taxpayers from lawsuits,” Joens said. “All of the citizens of Cottonwood have to pay for that lawsuit. The city is not the staff. The city is the people and the people are the ones who have to pay.”
The issue came to light after the Cottonwood Journal Extra published a story Feb. 9 about the availability of emergency food for the local homeless population.
The story prompted a call to Cravens from the city’s Parks and Recreation Department informing her the group needed to purchase liability insurance just like everybody else who hosts an event at the park, Cravens said.
“I know it was meant to inform the public on a service that is provided, but for the second time in my three and a half years of doing this, I find that an article written by a well-meaning journalist at Larson Newspapers ... has gotten us into hot water,” Cravens wrote in an e-mail Feb. 21.
A previous story about the coalition’s meal service prompted inquiries from Yavapai County Community Health Services, which is charged with inspecting restaurants and other places that serve food to the public. The coalition was able to resolve those concerns after meeting with health officials, she said.
“This time, I guess the Parks and Recreation Department got hold of the story and has decided we can’t use their parks anymore unless we get event liability insurance — which is very costly,” Cravens wrote. “We will not be able to do that, and so, I’m afraid it might be our end.”
“I don’t usually give up so easy, but I think I’ve had it with fighting to keep hungry people fed. We will see what ridiculous rules, policies and laws will try to prevent it next,” she wrote.
Faust said any one of the churches participating in the food service could add the city as an additional insured to the liability policy it already has in place. There should be no additional cost, he said.
Hearts for the Homeless is just one of several organizations serving free hot meals in the Verde Valley. Others include the Old Town, Bread of Life and Lighthouse missions.
Nonprofit organizations currently contributing to the Hearts for the Hungry and Homeless program include Mountain View United Methodist Church, Emmanuel Fellowship New Hope Christian Fellowship, Calvary Chapel Verde Valley, Verde Council of the Knights of Columbus, Verde Valley Christian Church and Cottonwood Assembly of God.
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