Cortez Journal

Cortez food bank's future uncertain after expose

Nov. 28, 2000

By Janelle Holden
Journal Staff Writer

A local branch of a statewide food-bank program, Share the Harvest, will likely stop offering boxed food to its members during December.

The parent organization is being investigated for violating Food Bank guidelines, because it and its affiliates charge $15 apiece for boxes filled with $50 to $80 worth of groceries, personal-care items, and over-the-counter medicines.

Share the Harvest distributes an average of 2,500 boxes of food a month in Colorado communities including Cortez, Gunnison, Hotchkiss, Paonia and Olathe. Most of the food comes from Food Bank of the Rockies, a wholesale distributor of foods to non-profit agencies.

During the five years of its operation, the boxes have been filled by crews of inmate laborers and volunteers from the Delta Ministerial Fellowship.

Persons do not have to meet any low-income guidelines in order to receive food through Share the Harvest.

Judie and Greg Fedler, the founders of Share the Harvest, were in San Diego to receive an award for their volunteer efforts when an investigative report critical of the organization aired on Denverís NEWS4, a CBS affiliate.

Brian Maass, an investigative reporter for NEWS4, said that members of the news organization went to two different distribution points, one at the Delta headquarters and another in Olathe. When they told distributors they didnít want to pay for the box of food, "they insisted on a donation, and were adamant on us giving money," said Maass.

Maass said the news station also found instances of people in line who were not needy, but interested in taking advantage of a bargain deal for groceries.

When Maass consulted with Rick Rank, the director of Food Bank of the Rockies, Rank pointed out that the Food Bank guidelines state that all money given to the organization must be voluntary and completely anonymous.

"It was neither anonymous or truly voluntary," said Maass.

"Basically, we buy the food from the Food Bank, but if the Food Bank gets the food free, and charges us so much a pound for what they call their administrative costs, how do they think we can buy the food and then run on absolutely no funds?" said Judie Fedler.

Fedler explained that Food Bank of the Rockies has been paid $188,000 this year for the food theyíve doled out to Share the Harvest branches. But Fedler said Food Bank gets the food for free.

"If they would give it to us free, we would still have to ask for a donation or a support fee," said Fedler. She explained that costs for shipping and storing the food have to be paid, one way or another.

The Fedlers are meeting today with Food Bank of the Rockies and the Delta Ministerial Fellowship to decide Share the Harvestís future.

Fedler seemed flabbergasted that Food Bank would suddenly have a problem with the way the operation was run, when a complete audit done in September by Food Bank gave them an A+. They said "we were doing everything perfect," said Fedler.

The director of the Cortez Share the Harvest, Darlene Griffin, said the program has been successful in the area, and has helped many people who may not qualify for food stamps, but have trouble making ends meet.

"My heartís broke for them," said Griffin.

Working with Share the Harvest has been very fulfilling, she said.

"It did my heart a lot of good ícause I was severely depressed before this. It gave me a purpose in life," she said.

She was critical of the NEWS4 exposť, saying it was unfair.

"So who is Brian Maass to say who the needy are?" she wrote in a letter to the Cortez Journal. "That was the nice thing about Share the Harvest: ALL people were accepted."

Griffin said she sold 1,200 boxes a month last winter, and 625 in October.

Griffin said she has given away boxes of food, and sometimes has other agencies refer needy persons who cannot pay the $15 to her. But in her letter to the Journal, Griffin said that there were "a few times" that Share the Harvest had to say no to requests for free food because their allotted number of donated boxes were gone.

In Mancos, the Mancos Valley Food Care program charges $15.50 for a box of canned goods and meat.

Joyce Montague, the director of the program, said that $15 is sent to a food bank in Phoenix, which buys the next monthly shipment with the proceeds. She keeps 50 cents a month to help with expenses for the program.

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