There is such a thing as a free lunch

Martha Throebeck on Wednesday, June 14, 2000

from the trick-or-treating-for-adults dept.

CAPE GIRARDEAU -- Local authorities are investigating reports that a group of local residents are showing up at family reunions, wedding receptions, and company picnics to which they weren't invited. These "lunch freeloaders" pretend to be family members while chowing down on free food. While such activity may not be illegal, the Cape Girardeau police department is distributing flyers with the photos of the suspected freeloaders.

It's quite a racket. These food-snatchers keep an eye on the local newspaper for announcements of upcoming family reunions and weddings. Then they show up and try to keep a low profile while grabbing all the free food from the buffet that they can manage. If anyone asks about them, they just say, "I'm with the bride" or "I'm Aunt Betty's cousin". Every family has an Aunt Betty, so this ploy generally works.

Said one former anonymous freeloaders who quit the habit in 1997, "This is such an easy scam. Family members usually don't ask about people they don't know. They don't want to appear foolish by admitting there's somebody in the family they aren't familiar with. Or they just make up something, such as, 'Well, that guy chowing on the chicken must be relations to Uncle Tom. He kind of looks like Tom.' And if some nosy busybody (every family has one) does ask who you are, it's usually not too difficult to smooth-talk your way out of the situation."

The local police suspect that a ring of a dozen or so freeloaders are operating within the county. They were tipped off by a worker in the Cape County Parks Department who kept getting calls from some stranger asking for the list of reserved pavillions in the park every week. "With that kind of information you could show up at 2 or 3 reunions or get-togethers during the day and get all the free food you could grab. It was pretty obvious what kind of scam this guy was trying to pull," said the Parks Department employeee.

One local church is taking matters into its own hands to put a stop to freeloading. People going to wedding receptions hosted at the Green Flower Third Baptist Church must show photo ID and their invitation before they are allowed in. This zero tolerance policy did cause some problems last weekend when the a bridesmaid was refused entry because she didn't have an invitation with her. "I'm a bridesmaid! I helped send out the invitations for crying out loud!" she yelled. The church has altered its policy slightly to prevent such misunderstandings in the future.

Local officials admit that cracking down on freeloading doesn't really make it go away. "These people just start going to free dinners in neighboring counties," one admitted. "And they start coming back to Cape a couple years later when everyone has let their guard down."