LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – They started lining up hours early, in the snow, the heat and the rain, while the volunteers inside prepared lunch. The sign outside read the meals were for "homeless, hungry, street people."
Every day there is a sad scene outside of the Franciscan Kitchen, where lines of hungry people stretch down Preston Street. Some cannot walk there, others are not even in school yet. The kitchen that served 100 lunches per day a decade ago exploded to 450 a day recently.
But when they opened up the doors around 10:30 a.m. a strange thing happened. Metro Government vehicles began showing up from Public Works and Corrections. The people who got out weren't serving. They began eating.
On six randomly selected days in March and April, I secretly recorded Metro Louisville vehicles pull up. Workers got out and went in to eat at the soup kitchen. Several trucks, several workers.
Every time I watched. Some talked on smartphones as they went in to eat with the homeless. They were either dropped off and then picked up an hour later, or the Metro vehicles remained while they ate hot meals with the street people.
I put a hidden camera on a person in line to get the real story.
"There's a few other kitchens that let us eat there but y'all got the best food," said one worker.
Many of them said they were work release inmates, working 10 hour days, and they said they don't get fed by Metro Corrections.
"They don't give us nothing to eat. They just send us out on road crew," said another worker.
"If they take us to eat, that's coming out of their pocket, not Corrections," said another worker.
"My breakfast be so big, I don't eat like I was eating," said a full time Metro worker, explaining why he wasn't eating lunch this time.
"When I started doing this, I got every crew that takes out inmates, I got them all coming over here," he said. Then he was asked if it's a security risk to drop off inmates and pick them up later.
"I think one time, we had one that escaped," he said. "We lost one. Thank God I haven't lost anybody."
I shared my findings with Franciscan Kitchen Director Chuck Mattingly and asked him if he was aware this was going on.
"I had heard something about a year ago that there were some city workers coming through but we don't know who they are, no way to identify them," said Mattingly. "Certainly if there's a person who's coming through here that has a job, whether work for city or some independent place, coming through, then they're just taking a meal away from a person who does deserve and needs a daily hot meal."
After viewing my video, and looking into the matter, the Mayor's office was shocked.
"We've done it for many years and quite frankly we shouldn't have," said Mayor's spokesman Chris Poynter.
Poynter learned a memo went out a year ago telling full timers to stop eating food for the homeless, but work release inmates could continue.
"It seemed to me to be a security risk to drop off inmates and pick them up an hour later, unsupervised, roaming the neighborhood," I said to Poynter.
"Our folks should be staying with these crews at all times," Poynter said.
He said work release inmates provide a valuable service to the community. He said they are paid, both in money and in time off their sentence.
"Now that you've brought this to our attention, we've thought about it and we're going to talk to the Franciscans. We're going to pay the Franciscans. Sometimes when you look at things in a new light, you need to do the right thing, and we're going to do the right thing," said Poynter.
The Franciscan Kitchen breaks ground Wednesday on an expansion, because it cannot keep up with the 400 percent increase in demand over the past decade. The Mayor has been invited to the groundbreaking. Poynter said the Corrections Director will be meeting with the Franciscans Director soon to work out a satisfactory payment for the meals.
The Franciscan Kitchen currently gets no federal, state or city funding.
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