Food bank offers help

The president of a Sparks food bank vowed on Monday to help make sure no Southern Nevadans go hungry because of recent controversy surrounding the Community Food Bank of Clark County.

"That may or may not mean shipping stuff from up here," said Cherie Jamason, president of the Food Bank of Northern Nevada.

America’s Second Harvest, a national network of more than 200 food banks and organizations that salvage food, last week terminated Community Food Bank’s membership after alleging the charity sold donations it should have given away, which it described as a "serious violation of the core values" of the network.

The national network serves as a link between major food donors and local food banks.

Jamason, who has worked at the Northern Nevada facility for 19 years, said the Community Food Bank has "worked diligently for the past 10 years" to try to fix problems with America’s Second Harvest. She would not elaborate on the nature of the problems.

Phil Zepeda, a spokesman for America’s Second Harvest, said the organization rarely drops a facility’s membership.

"We have rigorous standards and protocol issues around donated goods," he said, standards the local food bank supposedly violated.

The national food bank network, a 28-year-old nonprofit that distributes billions of pounds of donated grocery products from national manufacturers and retailers, said it sent staffers and hired private investigators posing as clients to visit the food bank several times.

"They were able to purchase products: food, pillows and sleeping bags," Zepeda said.

Bessie Braggs, longtime director of the local food bank, last week denied the allegations and said the charity simply holds periodic "reclaimed product sales" in which agencies and individuals can, for a $20 donation each, fill a 33-gallon bag with donated goods including toothpaste, blankets and other items. She said food products were not included.

Money earned from the periodic sales help offset some of the costs of running the food bank, including transporting products.

She said that the local facility has had a difficult relationship with America’s Second Harvest and that the national organization dropped the food bank’s membership "because they want to do their own food program here in town."

Braggs declined to comment further on Monday.

Zepeda said the direct sale of any donated product in this manner is inappropriate and a violation of America’s Second Harvest’s membership contract.

"It is not providing food at no cost to hungry Americans," he said.

The network has been notifying donors of the dropped membership, he said.

At least one of Community Food Bank’s major donors, Nabisco, has pulled out, Braggs said on Friday.

America’s Second Harvest helps route to food banks the surplus and damaged food and grocery items from a long list of donors including Albertsons, PepsiCo, Tyson Foods and Wal-Mart.

Losing the donations could hurt or shut down the local food bank, which is three decades old.

Braggs said last week that the food bank, 4190 N. Pecos Road, distributes food to 125 local churches, social service organizations and other groups that help the poor, providing food to about 70,000 Southern Nevadans each month.

One of the churches, Christ Church Episcopal, came to the food bank’s defense on Monday.

"I think (America’s) Second Harvest is out to get them," said Bonnie Polley, a deacon with the church.

Asked why the network would want to harm the facility, Polley said, "I wish I could answer those kinds of questions."

Polley said she sees nothing wrong with the food bank occasionally holding reclaimed product sales.

"You just get so much, why not get a little donation for it?" she said. "They have to pay for all the trucking to get food. It all costs so much money."

Polley said her church has been getting most of the food it uses to feed homeless and needy people from the food bank for more than 20 years, and has never noticed any problems at the facility.

"We get a truckload at least once a week," she said, adding that the church spends at least $1,000 a month on food items. "Last month we provided food for 5,600 people."

Charities such as the local church pay a set "shared maintenance fee" by the pound to food banks for goods. The fees are regarded differently than direct sales outside of normal channels.

Zepeda said his organization is working to minimize the effect that the food bank’s loss of donors or potential closure would have on the community.

He said that America’s Second Harvest is looking for local warehouse space and that if necessary will have food shipped directly to organizations that need it.

The Community Food Bank is a private nonprofit funded through a combination of county and federal grants and donations.

Clark County gave nearly $3.2 million in community development block grant funds to the food bank to help it buy a 50,000-square-foot warehouse a couple of years ago. The county also provides $165,000 to the food bank each year.

Clark County Community Resources Manager Douglas Bell on Friday said he hoped problems between the food bank and America’s Second Harvest could be patched up.

But Zepeda said that’s not a possibility.

"It’s done," he said.

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