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Health officials restrict northern volunteers from handing out hot meals to truckers

SAULT STE. MARIE -- Algoma Public Health is putting an end to a volunteer group's efforts to deliver hot meals to truck drivers passing through Sault Ste. Marie.

However, the group, known as "Feed our Truckers Sault Ste. Marie," says it's being treated unfairly by the health unit.

"We feel that we're doing something good and it's like somebody burst our bubble," said volunteer Cathy Netherton. "We have our community supporting us fully, you feel you're doing something right and it's disappointing to see."

Now, she says the health unit is restricting food handouts to dry goods only during the pandemic.

If volunteers want to continue serving hot food, she says they must have access to a licensed restaurant or a modified home kitchen that is certified.

"If I fed them out of my kitchen under normal circumstances, it wouldn't be a problem," she said. "But now, it has become a problem and even though I understand, I disagree."

Netherton says a local restaurant was willing to lend its kitchen to the group, but the health unit has quashed that as well.

"What they're trying to do is absolutely fantastic, especially in a time like this," said Mike Park, health inspector at Algoma Public Health. "However, we need to know that food is coming from an inspected food source."

Park says the health unit's main concern is over food poisoning and temperature control.

"We know that about half of all food-borne illness comes from the home," said the heal inspector. "We don't want anyone getting sick, so we won't risk it."

Park adds during and pandemic, food inspection and regulation are heavily increased.

When it comes to using another person's business, he says it also presents major legal hurdles.

"There are other ways to help out right now, like perhaps donating gift cards to truck stops and restaurants," said Park. "Of course, businesses are restricted, but not everything is closed. There are options."

Despite the restrictions, Netherton says she's received tons of support online from truck drivers country-wide.

"We wouldn't normally want to break the rules," she said. "But this is a totally different situation and it's crucial that we help our neighbours."