Family says it won't host holiday meal for homeless

Organizers of an annual Fourth of July cookout for Seattle's homeless have canceled the event this year because of a scheduling conflict with a different group that is also providing free meals.

Caroline Mitchell's family and other volunteers had fed the homeless on Independence Day at the plaza of Seattle's Public Safety Building for the past nine years, she said. The family had marked the holiday by barbecuing chicken, ribs and hamburgers and serving 500 to 700 homeless people.

But this year officials set up a schedule to manage the nine groups that regularly provide meals to the homeless on city property. When Mitchell called to get permission to use the plaza, she learned that another organization was scheduled to serve there today.

Kirk Phillips, security manager for the city of Seattle, said the city provides hot water, lighting and security, and picks up garbage when groups serve food on city property. He said he began monitoring the groups more closely this year to comply with food-safety rules.

Phillips said he offered Mitchell other times or locations, but she declined.

"I'm not going to argue or fight over a spot," Mitchell said. "If it's such a hassle this year to get that one day out of the year, there's something wrong here."

Mitchell said she began contacting city officials in May for permission to serve at the plaza but didn't hear from anyone until last week.

Beverly Graham runs Operation: Sack Lunch, the group scheduled to serve at the plaza today. Graham said Mitchell asked her to give up the group's spot for the day, but Graham declined.

Graham said she was reluctant to let the Mitchells serve alongside her group because she couldn't be sure of their food-handling procedures.

Graham said she didn't want to discourage anyone from feeding the homeless, but if someone were to get sick from eating improperly handled food it could jeopardize all groups serving free food. Her organization serves 88,000 meals each year.