Behind the numbers in the alleged Feeding Our Future scandal

The numbers are staggering. FBI search warrants allege that $48 million was stolen from a federal low-income food program in Minnesota. How was it done? Volume, sheer volume.

Not one person has been arrested or charged in the alleged scandal. A previous post added up the numbers of how two Minnesota nonprofit networks — Feeding Our Future and Partners in Nutrition — dominated two federal programs meant to serve low-income children. The two networks claimed to have had the capacity to feed up to 952,000 people in Minnesota every day. This in a state with a total population of 5.7 million.

The FBI search warrants and media accounts name several private restaurants and catering companies allegedly involved in the scandal. Cross-checking these names with the Minnesota Department of Education’s database reveals that these entities were mostly involved in the Department’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP).

Flashing back to June 2021, when Feeding Our Future was feuding with the Department about adding new locations to the program, CEO Aimee Back made this claim, as reported by KSTP:

Last year at this time we were serving 75,000 kids a day. Right now we are able to serve 10,000; that’s 65,000 at-risk youth in Minnesota going without meals and snacks.

She apparently was referring to her stable of summer food distribution sites, which numbered 40 and had an authorized capacity of 65,100 children per day. Over both breakfast and lunch, the maximum number of meals served could total 130,200 per day.

The 40 sites ran the gamut, from restaurants, to shopping centers, to apartment buildings, to religious centers, and even city parks. Even more amazing was how much of the 130,000-meal capacity rested with three of the names listed in the FBI search warrants.

According to MDE’s database of approved SFSP food vendors, Safari Restaurant alone had an authorized maximum capacity of 41,400 meals per day across 17 locations. The FBI search warrants accuse the restaurant and related entities of stealing $15 million from the program (paragraph 83, page 25).

Empire Cuisine and Market has an authorized daily meal capacity of 52,800 across 26 locations under the summer program, most of which were part of the Partners in Nutrition network. Empire is linked to a group that allegedly received $16 million from the program.

S&S Catering was authorized to serve 4,500 meals per day under the summer program, across three locations. The FBI claims that S&S received $13.8 million in federal funds.

Many of the locations listed for these authorized sites — apartment buildings, city parks, etc. — appear to have no obvious connection to the vendors accused of wrongdoing by the FBI.

Drilling deeper into the summer program — between the two networks of Feeding Our Future and Partners in Nutrition — there are 53 approved locations authorized to serve up to 60,000 children per day, which are either (1) run by the nonprofits themselves, (2) have ties to other nonprofits named in the FBI search warrants, (3) are served by food vendors named in the FBI search warrants, or (4) some combination of the above.

Of the 53 locations, 11 are townhome or apartment complexes. Some of the locations listed are quite small, with just a few dozen units, but are authorized to serve hundreds or even more than a thousand children daily. Curiously, eight of the townhomes are apartment complexes that are listed twice under different ID numbers.

Five of the sites are religious centers. Three are childcare centers. There are three restaurants/markets and three suburban city parks. Curiously, the three suburban parks do not appear to have any buildings or structures beyond picnic shelters. There are three commercial buildings listed and the remainder are nonprofit businesses.

What’s not clear with these 53 sites is the extent to which the site owners were aware of their addresses being used in the applications. Were these property owners the victims of a form of identity theft, or, perhaps some (or all) were legitimate locations for food distribution?

Sorting by geography, and eliminating duplicates, the sites break down as follows: Minneapolis 11, Burnsville five, St. Paul five, Owatonna four, Bloomington three, Faribault three, Rochester three, Shakopee two, and Mankato, Maplewood, Savage, St. Cloud, and Willmar one each.

In digging into individual addresses, we did come across this county flyer, advertising on page 2 for Feeding Our Future food distributions:

Free meals kits in Burnsville
For kids and teens 18 and under. Limit one box
per child; each child receives seven breakfasts
and seven dinners.

The digging will continue.