Feeding Our Future: telling the whole story

The trial enters its fifth week at the Federal courthouse in downtown Minneapolis. The prosecution has rested its case, now the defense is putting on its witnesses.

The “Feeding Our Future” scandal takes its name from a large free-food nonprofit, of whose founder/CEO and two other employees have been charged.

This first trial in the case involves seven (7) defendants (out of 70 charged), all associated with the now-closed Shakopee restaurant Empire Cuisine.

A number of additional names–of both individuals and companies–have come up in the course of the trial, giving a flavor of the wider scope of the scandal, as distinguished from the much narrower scope of the legal proceedings.

None of the organizations or individuals discussed below have been accused of any wrongdoing.

The scandal involves two Federal programs: the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). Both Federal programs are administered in Minnesota by the state Dept. of Education (MDE). To oversimplify, the object of both programs is to provide meals to low-income children, and is usually done through day cares and after-school programs. Both programs grew rapidly during the early days of the Covid pandemic.

The programs operate through nonprofits, called “sponsors,” who, in turn, oversee smaller nonprofits who operate individual food-distribution sites. MDE shut down the three largest sponsors in Minnesota. By shutting down those three nonprofits, MDE effectively shut down hundreds and hundreds of local food sites, reportedly serving hundreds of thousands of children each day.

Feeding Our Future was the largest sponsor. Another nonprofit, Partners in Nutrition (d/b/a Partners in Quality Care) has also featured prominently in the current trial. At their peak both Feeding and Partners were taking in around $200 million per year for their free-food efforts.

The third sponsor nonprofit barred by MDE, Youth Leadership Academy (d/b/a Gar Gaar Family Services, GGFS) existed for only one year, 2021, taking in over $25 million. MDE went beyond merely cutting off funding to the nonprofit itself, the Department took the extraordinary step to ban the nonprofit’s principals from participating in the program. The Star Tribune reported back in February 2023,

That means Gar Gaar, [CEO Khadija] Ali, Chief Operating Officer Priya Morioka, board member Mark Ritchie (former Minnesota Secretary of State), board member Zeynep Tuzcu and representative Mohamed Horia can’t participate in the school year meals program.

You read that correctly, Mark Ritchie–the two-term DFL MN Secretary of State, the man who presided over the 2008 Franken/Coleman U.S. Senate recount, and who presided over the vote count in the 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014 elections (among other duties)–is barred from participating in Federal free-food programs. That ban was upheld by the state Court of Appeals.

Gar Gaar itself makes a cameo appearance in the prosecutors’ exhibit list in the current Federal trial.

The exhibits refer to two local food operations that the controversial nonprofit Somali Community Resettlement Services operated on behalf of Gar Gaar (GGFS).

The two principals of Gar Gaar–Ali and Morioka–appear to have returned to their earlier business endeavor, a translation company. One minor change: the company relocated from their former south Minneapolis Lake St. address to a building it purchased in Northeast Minneapolis.

As it happens, the new corporate headquarters for the translation company sits on the same E Hennepin Ave. block as this multi-tenant office building that once hosted a 2,000 children per day food site sponsored by, you guessed it, GGFS.

Ali continues to serve on the boards of the prestigious Minneapolis Foundation and Citizens League. Despite her ban by the state Dept. of Education, her company continues to do small amounts of business with other state agencies.

To repeat: none of the names or companies mentioned above have been accused of any wrongdoing in the Feeding Our Future case.