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Ban on food and beverage in funeral homes lifted in new state law

When a family member or good friend dies, it is the custom to bring food to the home of grieving relatives. Comfort food.

But did you ever notice that you won’t find food or drink at the funeral home?

That’s because it is illegal in New York for funeral homes to serve food or beverages.

That may soon change.

New York State lawmakers last week passed a bill that lifts the decades-old ban prohibiting funeral homes from serving food and beverages.

Currently 48 states allow food and drinks at funeral homes. Only New York and Pennsylvania have the ban.

If Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signs the law, funeral homes in the state would be permitted to serve non-alcoholic beverages and light refreshments such as baked goods and light sandwiches.

When the state’s funeral homes started efforts to lift the ban in late 2013, they were unable to determine why the 1950s ban was ever put in place, said Randy McCullough, deputy director of the New York State Funeral Directors Association.

“It was more than time for that prohibition to be lifted,” said McCullough.

McCullough said the origins of the ban may have been more culturally based than anything. Most newer states like Arizona don’t have laws regarding food and drinks in funeral homes, he said.

Funeral directors have an interest in offering food during funeral services, the director said.

Traditionally, wakes took place from 2 to 4 p.m. and resumed at 7 to 9 p.m. But because loved ones aren’t living as geographically close as they used to, wakes are being consolidated into one time period from 4 to 8 p.m. to allow for travel time.

These more modern four-hour services take place during dinner time, leaving mourners without an opportunity to partake of any refreshments, or even a drink of water.

“It can be an emotionally draining thing when someone has lost a loved one,” McCullough said. “So to give them, and people who are waiting in line to pay their respects, some kind of beverage, or even light fare, we thought was more than time and well in order.”

McCullough said that he, and the members of the association, are not considering serving full meals or becoming a food-service industry.

“I think I can tell you definitively that they will continue to work with local caterers and restaurants with whom they have wonderful relationships and continue to help in that regard locally,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s a community thing.”