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Popular vendor taken out of ballparks

Jeraldine Houston

Jeraldine Houston

photo

The Associated Press

Peanut Lady Jeraldine Houston smiles with her cart full of sandwiches, hot boiled peanuts, cakes, cookies and other goodies at Vallotton Youth Complex in Valdosta.

VALDOSTA, Ga. -- With a wagon-load of fresh cakes, hot boiled peanuts and ice-cold bottled water she has witnessed generations of children, or as she refers to them, her angels, grow into adults with children of their own.

She's been a sight of relief and joy for thousands of Lowndes County children over the years. She has a name, but most people just know her as the "Peanut Lady."

Ever since August 1989, Jeraldine Houston has gone to Valloton, Freedom and Sunset parks, where kids play ball, to sell her homemade wares to spectators.

Sometimes she skipped sleeping at night to prepare her key lime cakes, pecan pies, sweet potato pies, hot boiled peanuts and chicken salad.

Everything is made fresh and sold at a reasonable cost. Four bucks for a heaping sack of peanuts and $1.50 for her wide variety of cakes and cookies.

"People used to tell me I cut my cakes too big or that I put enough chicken salad on the sandwiches for two servings, but I just want to make sure people are satisfied," she said.

Her recipes are a secret between her and God, but people from all over town share a love for her delicious goodies and her warm personality.

She loved her routine and loved her customers. Children without money would get a handful of peanuts, but nearly all of them got a hug and kiss on the forehead.

Everything continued this way for 23 years until May, when she was notified by the Valdosta-Lowndes County Parks and Recreation Authority that she could no longer sell her goods at games.

This is because they have signed an exclusive deal with a local vendor to provide concessions at all youth baseball, adult softball and youth football games for $50 a night.

Parks and Recreation Authority Executive Director George Page said there were no submissions for fulfillment of the contract, but the owner of Funnel King Cakes Factory, Inc., LaWanda Smith notified the Authority of her interest in providing concessions.

"They just started for us this season and have a business license and have a general liability policy that excludes Parks and Recreation from possible litigation," said Page.

Houston said she never received notification about the open bid process.

She has renewed her business license every year and said that the same rules don't apply to her because she was grandfathered in under previous ordinances.

Nothing happened immediately after Parks and Recreation contracted with Smith, according to Houston.

It wasn't until a couple of weeks later that she was given the proverbial boot.

"I'm under the old law. It's like tearing down a historical building - you tore down a historical person," Houston said. "I can't believe it happened like this ... I feel like the carpet was pulled out from under my feet."

While she doesn't make much from selling food at games, she makes enough to support herself and enjoys her occupation. Houston is willing to pay the $50 a night, but admits it would change her long-time routine.

Normally, she would carry her wagon and make the rounds to the various bleachers and serve the customers directly. She could usually finish her route in a couple of hours.

Concession provider LaWanda Smith believes in the importance of providing a hygienic product and that everyone should be held to the same standards and regulations. She also said it would be a competitive disadvantage to allow someone without a contract to undercut prices.

In 23 years, Houston said she has yet to have a complaint or an illness caused by her food.

Like many people, former Valdosta mayor Sonny Vickers is fond of her food.

"She's been doing that for a long time and she made a living; not on welfare," he said. "I don't know the reasons why or the policies, but I'm surprised at them kicking her out of the parks."

Page said the current contract with Smith will expire after youth football season in the fall and Parks and Recreation will accept bids for the rights to sell concessions from anyone. He also said that more than one company or person could have rights to sell concessions.

Houston has a petition going around and plenty of people have signed it in her support. While it doesn't look as though she'll be able to sell her cuisine anytime this season, the Peanut Lady is ready to leave the matter in God's hands.

Comments

southwestga 1 year, 10 months ago

In our area, the Health Department has stopped the casual weekend barbecues and even bake sales that churches and others ran by the side of the road. Unless if it's at our annual community festival. There's no inspection, but if they pay the vendor's license fee it's somehow ok. I'm not for food poisoning, but this regulation seems excessive.

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Cartman 1 year, 10 months ago

Health Departments are an example of bureaucrats who go around trying to justify their existence. They should be defunded. This nation got along fine without them for over two centuries. We need less government - not more. Mrs. Jeraldine Houston's sad story is a prime example.

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