A cornucopia of free food in Bloomington

Nonprofits behind the Feeding Our Future alleged scandal argued that Minnesota children were going hungry for lack of free food distribution sites. A look at one Bloomington address suggests otherwise.

Not one person has been arrested or charged in the alleged scandal.

In November 2020, the St. Anthony-based nonprofit Feeding Our Future sued the state Department of Education (MDE) for the agency’s refusal to approve new sites for the nonprofit’s free food distribution program. At the time, Feeding Our Future claimed,

[T]he state’s lack of actions are still preventing 65,000 children around the state from being fed free meals. The vast majority of them are immigrants and refugees.

Feeding Our Future’s CEO, Aimee Bock, was quoted making this extraordinary claim,

One hundred thousand kids per day, conservatively, are not eating in Minnesota. Federal entitlement dollars are not coming to our state because they (MDE) refuse to take action or follow the law.

Fortunately, these fears proved to be unfounded, as public and private schools, churches, and other nonprofits stepped up to provide sites for free food distribution. This previous post documents how the city of Bloomington, and other Minnesota cities, ended up with enough state-approved capacity (on paper) not just to meet needs, but in theory could have supplied free food to every child in the city last summer. About one-quarter of Bloomington’s free food capability was located at a single address.

To illustrate how this all works, let’s look at that single address in Bloomington, 8201 Park Avenue South. This one location hosted five free food distribution sites last year, run by five different, and apparently unrelated, organizations. Coincidences abound.

The largest of the five efforts claimed a maximum capacity to serve 6,000 children per day. This site was sponsored by Feeding Our Future and is listed in MDE records as “Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center-ThinkTechAct.” The ThinkTechAct nonprofit was listed in an FBI search warrant as having received $16 million in reimbursement from federal free food programs (Search warrant, page 14, paragraph 49). The FBI searched ThinkTechAct’s Edina office (page 4, paragraph 8) last month.

To be clear, the FBI search warrants do not list the Park Avenue address, the nonprofit’s Bloomington-based food vendor or any of the entities located at that address. The local site contact is listed in MDE records as Aimee Bock. So, it’s not clear that the Islamic Center was even aware it was listed in the MDE database as a Feeding Our Future food distributor.

Feeding Our Future claimed the Park Avenue address as a site under both federal programs, the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). Capacities at the site varied with the program and the season. In all instances, Bock is shown as the local site contact. In early 2021, it was reported to be one of the state’s largest locations.

St. Paul-based Partners in Nutrition, a second nonprofit network, also shut down by the state of Minnesota, operated a location at that same Park Avenue address. The Partners’ program lists Success Academy as the local sponsor, but MDE records list the Partners’ CEO as the local Bloomington site contact. Partners’ lists this site’s capacity as 2,500 under the CACFP.

Success Academy itself runs the summer program, at the Park Avenue school. MDE’s database lists the school’s executive director as the local site contact. The Academy claims a more modest maximum capacity of 180 for its in-school summer program.

The seemingly unrelated Success Institute runs the fourth free food program at the 8201 Park Avenue address. The Institute has listed “Dar Al Faruq” (sp.) as the local sponsor, with a summer capacity of 550. The Institute’s CEO is listed as the local site contact.

To recap,

Again, it’s not clear the extent (if any) to which the local Islamic Center participated in, or was aware of, this effort. Coincidentally, the address listed for the Success Institute is the same office building in St. Anthony where Feeding Our Future is located.

The Success Institute turns out to have been an instant success. The nonprofit began operations in 2018 and in four short years has collected over $15 million from MDE for its food service programs. The Institute operates 15 summer locations around the state, including a second Bloomington site, that one capable of serving up to 100.

The Success Institute also operates 13 of those locations under the CACFP program, although none of them are located in Bloomington.

In addition, the local nonprofit VEAP runs a mobile food pantry at the 8201 Park Avenue location once a week on Friday afternoons.

If there are children going hungry in the south Metro, it can’t be for lack of taxpayer-provided resources.