The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farmers to Families Food Box Program was intended to pair produce, meat and dairy suppliers harmed by the pandemic with distributors who can channel their products to families in need.
However, San Antonio Food Bank CEO Eric Cooper told the Express-News that the distribution contractors — which include Borden Dairy, GoFresh Produce and Tasty Brands — have dumped food boxes at its warehouse instead of taking them directly to people who qualify for the program.
So far, the Food Bank has spent tens of thousands of dollars of its own funding to unload Farmers to Families contractor trucks, store the food, then deliver it to sites where hungry families can pick it up.
“We could be using that money for other expenses,” Cooper said. “We are grateful for the food and we need it, so we are willing to put those private dollars toward the distribution [costs].”
The complaint is one more knock at the Trump administration program, which faced lawmaker scrutiny after reports that distribution contractors without apparent qualifications had landed sizable deals. One of those — San Antonio-based event planner CRE8AD8 landed a $39 million pact even though it had no distribution experience and its CEO had made numerous questionable claims about its qualifications.
CRE8AD8 is also among the companies that have deposited boxes with the Food Bank instead of delivering directly to people in need, according to the Express-News.
Under the federal contracts, awardees are expected to pass the boxes directly to families at food distributions, following a “truck-to-trunk” model. This allows local food banks, already busy feeding needy families, to bypass the costly headache of unloading and storing the boxes.
“It’s very disappointing,” Robin Cadle, CEO of the Food Bank of the Golden Crescent in Victoria, told the Express-News. “We aren’t the San Antonio Food Bank. We are small. We have to send an email to our partners to tell them to be ready to come to the food bank and pick up the food boxes the moment they arrive.”
The SA Food Bank's Cooper told the daily that the USDA has said charities can negotiate expenses with contractors. However, those attempts have been a one-way conversation.
“[Contractors] are just saying, ‘Yeah, no, this is how it works. We can’t deliver to a site,'" Cooper said. "So, it’s an exercise in frustration.”
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