J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · June 3, 2020

In the midst of a pandemic and economic collapse, the Asotin County Board of Health has proven that it will stop at nothing to prevent a charity-minded constituent from helping her hungry neighbors. The latest twist in the county’s months-long campaign to stop Kathy Hay from operating a “little free pantry” came in the form of an invoice for $2,800 and a letter demanding that Kathy pay the county for its illegal enforcement actions against her.

“With Washington’s food banks facing an impending ‘crisis,’ residents sheltering in place and a pandemic growing in the Eastern half of the state, it is beyond outrageous that the county not only continues its campaign against little free pantries, but also had the audacity to bill Kathy for its illegal enforcement actions,” said Erica Smith, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, which represents Kathy in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the county’s actions. “According to the county, even if Kathy complies with its long list of illegal demands, she cannot reopen her pantry until she pays the county’s invoice. At this point, it seems clear that the county would rather extract a pound of flesh than help residents in need.”

According to Feeding America, America’s food banks are facing a “perfect storm.” Thankfully Americans across the country are responding by converting their “little lending libraries” into “little free pantries.” And while the vast majority of cities and states have welcomed the trend, a handful of closedminded regulators have responding by putting up red tape in the way of charity.

Kathy’s fight started last year, when she erected a little free pantry in her backyard. At the time, she just wanted to share food with her neighbors in need and give back to a community that had supported her when she was having a hard time putting food on her own table. The pantry proved successful, as many neighbors helped keep it stocked with foods, while others took what they needed to feed their families. But a few weeks later, Kathy found that no good deed goes unpunished. The Asotin County Board of Health ordered her to shut it down because, they said, she needed to satisfy a laundry list of unnecessary demands that had nothing to do with protecting the health or safety of her pantry’s patrons. Faced with no other options, Kathy partnered with the Institute for Justice and sued the county to vindicate her right to help her neighbors.

“Forcing Kathy to pay for the county’s illegal enforcement actions is appalling,” said IJ Constitutional Law Fellow Caroline Grace Brothers. “The county’s petty attempt to recoup its illegal enforcement costs knows no bounds. They even charged her for the time they spent talking to local reporters about the issue. If the county doesn’t come to its senses and tell its regulators to stand down, we’ll have no other recourse than to see them in court.”