Texas caterer to fight in court for right to feed homeless and hungry

by Vanessa Garcia Rodriguez, |
Joan Cheever founded The Chow Train, a non-profit organization that feeds the needy in 2005 and received 501-c3 status in 2011. | The Chow Train Facebook

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Christian Examiner) -- A Texas woman with a licensed non-profit food truck was fined $2,000 for feeding the homeless last week. The good Samaritan says she will not pay the fee and plans to argue for her religious freedom rights in court this June.

Joan Cheever, a certified chef, was delivering meals cooked in her Chow Train food truck April 7 when San Antonio police cited her for not having the proper permit to distribute food.

According to an interview Cheever gave during The Blaze magazine podcast "The Church Boys," the citation was issued because the food truck which carries the permit was not on site. Cheever said her volunteer team instead was distributing meals from catering equipment that was loaded into the pickup truck she uses to pull the licensed 14-foot trailer.

"I was surprised, because I had been doing it so long," Cheever said, noting she purchased the food truck in March 2011 to realize her dream of feeding the needy and comply with city regulations.

She said police officers often stopped by her truck to thank and encourage her for her efforts, and she was taken aback when the citing officer shared he had been "ordered" to ticket her.

"For about 10 or 15 minutes while I was talking to them, one of them was calling into downtown to find out exactly what the ticket was supposed to be for," Cheever said, noting she overheard the officer explaining on the phone that she had a permit and claimed to be a caterer.

Cheever said she intends to fight the citation and claims the ticket violates her religious freedom to care for the needy.

To the officer who wrote her ticket, Cheever said she respectfully stated, '"Well, you know officer, by you giving me this ticket you have violated two federal laws: a federal judge's order in Dallas [based on a similar case] and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act. So my four [spiritual] laws, I think, trump your one little city ordinance."

She also fulfilled her promise to the officers that she would be back the following week. When she showed up in the same spot April 14, The Chow Train chef and volunteers were greeted by 100 supporters and a number of news teams -- but no law enforcement.

Joan Cheever, The Chow Train chef, plans to fight a violation issued by the City of San Antonio for feeding the homeless at a public park. | The Chow Train Facebook

Monday, the caterer posted on The Chow Train Facebook page the letter she received requesting her to appear in court.

"It's now incredibly personal. The entire STATE OF TEXAS v. little old me?" her post read.

"I am going to court. $2,000 fine for serving a hot and safe meal to the homeless AND to the working poor of San Antonio. This letter I received in the mail on Saturday just took my breath away. A sucker punch in the gut. But just for one moment. I dusted myself off and realize, I'm in it to win it."

Cheever has launched a gofundme.com page to help fund her pending legal battle.

In addition to feeding the homeless, The Chow Triain also has been used to provide meals to residents devastated by natural disasters.