Feeding Our Future: no Refuge from the storm (Updated)

A newly uncovered court transcript indicated that unnamed state representative went to bat for Feeding Our Future and one of its nonprofit food providers.

The transcript, from a hearing that occurred on April 30, 2021, in Feeding Our Future’s lawsuit against the state Department of Education (MDE), reveals the following detail offered by Feeding’s attorney,

4/30/21 hearing transcript, p. 29.

(Updated: It turns out that the only detail the lawyer got correct was the name of the nonprofit. It’s located in St. Paul, it was a state senator (Sandy Pappas-DFL, St. Paul), and she contacted the Department directly.)

The hearing occurred on April 30, 2021. According to records on file with the MN Secretary of State’s office, House of Refuge Outreach Twin Cities was not incorporated until July 23, 2021.

According to records on file with the IRS, House of Refuge Outreach did not receive its tax exempt status letter until October 18, 2021. A predecessor organization, Evangelist Temple House of Refuge Outreach Ministries, was first incorporated in 2005.

Nonetheless, House of Refuge Outreach was approved for participation in the free food programs. MDE databases list House of Refuge Outreach as an authorized site in the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP).

House of Refuge’s summer program was authorized to serve up to 3,000 children per day (both breakfast and lunch) at the nonprofit’s St. Paul location. It was sponsored by Feeding Our Future and their food vendor is listed as Brava Café.

House of Refuge Outreach was also authorized to participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program. In this program, the nonprofit is sponsored by Feeding’s competitor, Partners in Nutrition, and authorized to serve up to 2,500 children per day.

Fox 9 reports that only the Partners effort was successful,

State education officials do not have records showing that House of Refuge received any federal money through Feeding Our Future. In fact, Feeding Our Future reversed the only claim it submitted for House of Refuge, said Kevin Burns, a spokesman for the state Department of Education.

Based on the sites that House of Refuge was operating under a second meal program, sponsor Partners in Nutrition claimed $2.7 million in reimbursement. State officials denied more than $1 million in additional claims, Burns said. The state later suspended payments to Partners in Nutrition. The group has sued the state. 

In fact, House of Refuge Outreach makes a cameo appearance in that Partners’ Federal lawsuit against the MDE. In the lawsuit, Partners submitted as Exhibit J, a list of unpaid invoices.

On page 7 of Exhibit J, the following description is included regarding House’s unpaid January 2022 invoice,

A similar description appears regarding House’s February 2022 invoice (page 27).

According to its Facebook page, House of Refuge appears to still be in the food distribution business.

Although the nonprofit’s website has a donate page, neither House of Refuge Outreach, nor the Evangelist Temple, appear to be registered as charities with the state Attorney General’s office.

The owner of House of Refuge’s food vendor, Hanna Marakegn of the Brava Café in Minneapolis, was indicted by the Department of Justice last month. She is expected to plead guilty in the case. In 2022, Marakegn donated $1,000 to the political campaign of state Rep. John Thompson of St. Paul. Those donations occurred well after the events described in the court transcript.