So much for serving the homeless.
The Bloomberg administration is now taking the term "food police" to new depths, blocking food donations to all government-run facilities that serve the city's homeless.
In conjunction with a mayoral task force and the Health Department, the Department of Homeless Services recently started enforcing new nutritional rules for food served at city shelters. Since DHS can't assess the nutritional content of donated food, shelters have to turn away good Samaritans.
For over a decade, Glenn Richter and his wife, Lenore, have led a team of food-delivery volunteers from Ohab Zedek, the Upper West Side Orthodox congregation.
They've brought freshly cooked, nutrient-rich surplus foods from synagogue events to homeless facilities in the neighborhood. (Disclosure: I know the food is so tasty because I've eaten it — I'm an OZ member.) The practice of donating such surplus food to homeless shelters is common among houses of worship in the city.
DHS Commissioner Seth Diamond says the ban on food donations is consistent with Mayor Bloomberg's emphasis on improving nutrition for all New Yorkers. A new interagency document controls what can be served at facilities — dictating serving sizes as well as salt, fat and calorie contents, plus fiber minimums and condiment recommendations.
The city also cites food-safety issues with donations, but it's clear that the real driver behind the ban is the Bloomberg dietary diktats.
Diamond insists that the institutional vendors hired by the shelters serve food that meets the rules but also tastes good; it just isn't too salty. So, says the commissioner, the homeless really don't need any of the synagogue's food.
Glenn Richter's experience suggests otherwise. He says the beneficiaries — many of them senior citizens recovering from drug and alcohol abuse — have always been appreciative of the treats he and other OZ members bring.
It's not just that the donations offer an enjoyable addition to the "official" low-salt fare; knowing that the food comes from volunteers and community members warms their hearts, not just their stomachs.
So you can imagine Richter's consternation last month when employees at a local shelter turned away food he brought from a bar mitzvah.
He's a former city Housing Authority employee, and his wife spent 35 years as a South Bronx public-school teacher, so they're no strangers to bureaucracy and poverty. But an exasperated Richter says, "This level of micromanagement is stunning."
Says Rabbi Allen Schwartz of Ohav Zedek, "Jews have been eating chulent and kugel for a long time, and somehow we've managed to live long and healthy lives. All we want to do is to continue sharing these bounties with our neighbors."
This is very different from another recent high-profile food-police case. When a North Carolina prekindergarten aide took away a 4-year-old's home-packed lunch last month, the school defused the incident by blaming a teacher's bad judgment.
Here, there's no teacher to scapegoat. The ban on food donations is the direct result of work by many city agencies, all led by a mayoral task force.
Fine, the city's making enough nutritious food available to our homeless. (Court mandates require it.) But that's no excuse for turning away charity that brings a tiny bit of joy into these lives.
The Bloomberg administration is so obsessed with meddling in how we all live that it's now eating away at the very best that New York citizens have to deliver.
Jeff Stier, a National Center for Public Policy Research senior fellow, lives on the Upper West Side.