SIKESTON - The Bootheel Food Bank and Mission Missouri received good news June 6, when Governor Matt Blunt signed a bill from the Missouri House of Representatives that could potentially provide more food for distribution to the needy.
House Bill 1559 adds grocery stores and convenience stores to the list of businesses that can donate any canned or perishable food to charity without being subject to civil damages arising from the condition of the food, unless an injury is caused by gross negligence or intentional misconduct.
The law becomes effective Aug. 28.
Blunt said in a written statement, "This bill will help ensure safe, adequate food makes it to the tables of those in need instead of being tossed in the trash."
"The bill just corrects an oversight," said Jason Glahn, analyst for the Missouri House of Representatives. "Restaurants were already guaranteed this protection, but that bill left off grocery and convenience stores."
Glahn ensured that after the bill is put into effect, the safety of those consuming the donated food will remain a top priority.
"Although the bill makes it less likely for convenience and grocery stores to be sued, the bill doesn't cover donations of food that have passed the expiration date or are knowingly harmful. That would be unsafe and considered negligence," explained Glahn.
Dorene Johnson, executive director of the Bootheel Food Bank, is very optimistic about the new bill.
"I think it will encourage businesses to donate food to us," said Johnson. "We always need more food because more and more people need help."
And the bill could not come at a better time according to Warren Harber, treasurer of the Food Bank Board.
"We get most of our canned foods from the government, and the government keeps cutting back because the food is being transferred to the Army or underprivileged countries," explained Harber. "Besides the government, we depend solely on contributions. The only big gift of canned foods we get is from the Boy Scout canned food drive, so we are in need of more food."
It was not illegal for grocery stores to donate food before the bill was passed, but many grocers were hesitant to donate.
"There were a few people, including the Missouri Groceries Association, that testified ... that they did not donate food items for fear of being sued," said Glahn.
Terry McKinnie, owner of McKinnie's Bestway convenience store, supported the legislation.
"I didn't know about the bill until recently, but we will probably do more now," said McKinnie. "We have donated things before and collected change for the Rescue Mission, but this will give us more chances to help."
Harber does not expect a huge increase in donations, but is very hopeful this bill will encourage more donations from the local businesses.
"I sympathize with the grocers. They always have people begging them for some kind of contribution," said Harber. "But if we could just get a few bent cans or anything else that would be great."