WILKES-BARRE — A battle is brewing over funerals and food in Pennsylvania and it could go all the way to the Supreme Court.
Last year, funeral directors sued state regulators to be able to serve food in funeral homes and won, but only for a short time.
Whether it’s sitting shiva, attending a wake, or any other tradition, food and funerals often go together. So some funeral directors say they should be able to serve refreshments if that’s what a family wants.
Now they are suing the state to change the rules.
At the H Merritt Hughes funeral home on North Main Street in Wilkes-Barre, mourners can have a sip of water or a mint, but that’s as far as it goes.
State regulations prohibit funeral homes in Pennsylvania from serving food.
The home’s owner says he would like to be able to offer grieving families at least a cup of coffee.
“Grief is a very, very difficult thing, and I would love to be able to do that, even sneak in a doughnut,” said H Merritt Hughes.
In 2012, a judge struck down the regulation, and for a while, food at funerals was allowed.
The Thomas P. and Kevin K. Kearny funeral homes in Lackawanna County served Cap’n Crunch at one man’s memorial and a favorite candy, Hot Tamales, at another’s.
Folks we met in Wilkes-Barre believe refreshments at a funeral sound reasonable.
Paola Mendez says at her service friends and family might need a drink.
“What sort of refreshments would you want at your funeral?”
“Margaritas,” Mendez replied.
Kenneth Prater is a Philadelphia native and says that city’s famous sandwich would make for a fine farewell.
“Philadelphia cheese steak, I love it.”
Hughes says while the food may be getting a lot of attention, it isn’t really the whole story. He says the rule is one of a number named in a lawsuit by a group of funeral directors who want the state to have less control.
While some funeral directors tell Newswatch 16 that the changes are needed to modernize the industry, Hughes believes the suit goes too far, eliminating regulations that protect consumers, like limiting who can sell funeral services.
“Some of the regulations make sense. Some are antiquated. They are nonsensical, but they’re there.”
We asked several funeral directors exactly why the original regulation against serving food was created, and none of them knew for certain.
It may have been about money, or sanitation concerns but they say times are changing, citing as an example the changing rules about smoking.