By Pablo Jaime Sainz
All Agustín Lugo was trying to do was help needy families by giving away free bread.
“People know that I have loaves of bread available for them, so they come to me looking for something to eat, because sometimes they don’t even have money for food,” said the 68-year-old Lugo.
He would stand at the intersection of 18th St. and Highland Avenue, in National City, and he would deliver the free bread he gets from organizations such as Consider the Poor Ministries.
“I do it from my heart, because I like helping people out,” said Lugo, who’s originally from Puerto Rico.
As many as 100 people get free loaves of bread from Lugo each week, and he gives out from three to up to five loaves of bread to each person.
“If I have more I give them more,” he said.
But on July 8, while Lugo was delivering the bread to the poor at the same spot he always does, an inspector for the County of San Diego’s Department of Environmental Health gave him a notice of violation: He needed to stop giving away free bread because he doesn’t have a health permit to do it.
Although the notice treats Lugo as a business owner and his cause as a business, Lugo said he doesn’t sell anything nor does he get any money from this.
“I’m only doing charity as a Christian man, just like Jesus would,” said Lugo, who has been involved in charity work for the last 40 years, also delivering clothes and food to Tijuana poor colonias.
The notice of violation states that Lugo is in violation of “Section 113920 of the California Health & Safety Code, and Section 61.110; San Diego County Code of Regulatory Ordinance. Operating a food facility or conducting itinerant food vending without a valid health permit.”
On his car, Lugo has the following legend written, to identify the charity work he does: “One Man Christian Mission: Free Bread.”
The health inspector used this legend and wrote it as the Business Name on the notice of violation.
The inspector observations state that she “observed a dark blue 4 door vehicle with signs: ‘Free Bread.’”
She then writes that Lugo has to “cease/desist displaying and giving away prepackage bread to the public. Release to owner for personal consumption.”
The notice of violation orders Lugo to get a health permit within five calendar days from receipt of notice of violation.
Lugo has one simple question: “Why do I need a permit to help out the poor? I’m not selling the bread, I’m giving it away for free.”
Corina Santana, a supervisor at the Environmental Health Department, said that even though Lugo isn’t selling anything, he’s still handling food, and the county needs to make sure that the food, in this case the bread, is in sanitary conditions.
“The permit is called Mobile Food Facility Service, and it is for all vehicles that sell or distribute food in the county,” she said. “Even if it’s free food, there still needs to be regulations. We need to know where is he storing the bread, is it at his garage next to where he parks his car? Is the vehicle in sanitary conditions to store the bread? We need to find out this for the safety of the people who will receive the bread.”
Santana said that the Mobile Food Facility Service has a yearly cost of $139.50, although after July 1 it has a 50% discount. The permit is valid until december of this year, she said.
Santana said that someone placed a complaint about Lugo.
She said that health inspectors don’t search for people who give out bread, but investigations begin when someone complains.
Lugo said that even though he’s willing to pay for the health permit, his vehicle wouldn’t meet all the requirements.
Georgia Campbell, director of Consider the Poor Ministries, which supply Lugo with the bread the organization receives from donations from supermarket chains such as Vons, said that Lugo is an honest man who does a great service to the community.
“I don’t think that’s fair what the health inspector has done to him,” she said. “Agustin has helped so many needy families in National City and in Tijuana. He shouldn’t be stopped from continuing his mission.”
While he clarifies this situation, Lugo said he will keep on helping the poor by taking food to Tijuana.
“I hope that more people follow my example and start helping their communities. There’s a lot of hunger out there, and many times a lot of food goes to waste. That food could’ve fed hundreds of children and their families. It shouldn’t go to waste,” he said.