Local News

Tuesday, Nov 20 2012 06:47 PM

Burrito brigade overwhelmed with offers of help

BY CHRISTINE BEDELL Californian government editor cbedell@bakersfield.com

Bakersfield's homeless -- in all likelihood -- will get their burritos Thanksgiving morning.

The Bakersfield Burrito Project volunteers were inundated Tuesday with offers of help to keep their annual Turkey Day feed going after The Californian reported that they'd learned at the last minute they couldn't continue to use Central Park downtown. The burrito brigade just couldn't afford permits and meet other city requirements.

The owner of American Sound Recording Studios at 2231 R St., not far from the park, agreed to let project organizers give away burritos from his parking lot, said Jason Rickett, a Bakersfield Burrito Project board member.

Project partners will distribute clothes, hygiene kits and, as things have turned out, pet food for "hungry homeless dogs," he said. Volunteers will stage at Central Park to let everyone know the effort has moved a few blocks away.

It all gets under way at 10 a.m. Thursday.

"Everything we've asked for has arrived, plus, plus, plus," an ebullient Rickett said Tuesday afternoon.

The "plus, plus, plus" referred to the "overwhelming" number of people who also came out to say Tuesday they want to help the Burrito Project obtain its nonprofit status and continue its smaller burrito feeds every Sunday.

They offered to carry liability insurance riders, open up their buildings, halls and kitchens for cooking healthy food, and otherwise give of their time and money to continue the cause.

"Please bear with us as we process this tremendous list of information, find the windows of opportunity with each organization and coordinate with them," Rickett said in a press release addressing the community. "And if you were thinking of helping or making an offer, but feel you might have missed the chance, please do not hesitate to contact us."

The burrito brigade didn't have all its ducks in order for Thursday, though. It needs a county Environmental Health Services permit to distribute food to the public, said Donna Fenton, chief environmental health specialist.

Those permits vary in type and cost, but the agency does all it can to ensure public safety without making it too difficult for charities to do their good deeds, she said. Fenton said that if the Bakersfield Burrito Project comes in Wednesday, she'll do her best to get it permitted.

The outpouring of support followed a burrito brouhaha of sorts that broke out Monday. That's when a Bakersfield city parks official let Rickett know that the permit he purchased a few days earlier was inadequate. The project needed $1,075 in permits, insurance and a sponsor with tax-exempt status because it was a public event.

Terry McCormick, a Bakersfield Recreation and Parks Department supervisor, told The Californian she sympathized with the burrito group but couldn't bend the rules, which ensure public safety and protect from liability. Burrito Project backers excoriated the city and McCormick personally online.

Kern County Supervisor Karen Goh read about the controversy Monday night and through contacts helped secure the American Sound Recording site.

"I just wanted to help them find a way to help the poor in our community, give them a nice Thanksgiving," said Goh.

She had a couple of other messages to impart: Don't be so harsh to government officials who are just trying to protect the public and don't just think of helping the less fortunate during the holidays.

"People who are homeless and who are low-income have needs throughout the year," Goh said.

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