Free-food charity sues for reinstatement

Partners in Nutrition wants back into Federal programs that provided $100 million per year in revenue to the company.

The St. Paul-based nonprofit corporation Partners in Nutrition has sued the state of Minnesota in Federal court. After the FBI raids in January, Partners was suspended from participation in both the Child and Adult Care Food Programs (CACFP) and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP).

Both of those programs are operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and overseen locally by the state Department of Education (MDE).

Partners in Nutrition was suspended by MDE along with the nonprofits Feeding Our Future and Gar Gaar Family Services. Over its six-year existence, Partners has taken more than $200 million out of these programs, almost all of which occurred in the last two years:

Although their name appears in the FBI search warrants in the case, Partners itself was not searched, nor is it the subject of any FBI investigation. However, a number of its former vendors are under investigation, and two individuals have been arrested for passport fraud as they tried to flee the country.

Partners discloses in this most recent lawsuit (paragraphs 65-69, pages 20-21) that a former Partners’ board member is mentioned in FBI documents filed in the passport case.

Partners names this individual as Julius Scarver, the founder of a St. Paul-based nonprofit called The Free Minded Institute in July 2021 and a former employee of Partners.

As Partners discloses, the Institute operated five distribution sites under their sponsorship in CACFP (in Apple Valley, Chaska, Faribault, St. Paul, and Shakopee, combined daily capacity 4,100 children), with Empire Cuisine as food vendor.

Partners says (paragraph 68) that Scarver did not serve on the nonprofit’s board and as an employee at the same time. But Partners admits that Scarver operated sites for and served on the board of the group simultaneously, but says that all of these relationships were disclosed to MDE at the time.

To date, not a single person has been arrested or charged in the underlying case.

Partners won an appeal of their suspension from the CACFP program, but MDE has, so far, refused to reinstate the operation, hence the latest lawsuit.

Partners in Nutrition does business as Partners in Quality Care.

The company was co-founded in 2016 by Aimee Bock, who would later leave to run Feeding Our Future.

As recounted in their latest lawsuit, Partners in Nutrition notes that Bock originally worked for a free-food nonprofit called Providers Choice. Providers, Partners, and Feeding all act as facilitators, connecting local nonprofits who actually distribute the food, to the state and Federal bureaucracies.

One of Partners’ biggest complaints in the latest lawsuit is that MDE is referring Partners’ client nonprofits to its competitors. MDE has been directing nonprofits previously served by Partners to Providers Choice, YES Network, Youthprise, and local school districts who continue to operate. During its suspension, Partners’ client list has dwindled significantly, they report.

Even with the big 3 free-food nonprofits under suspension, others have stepped in to fill the void. (Fiscal Year 2023 just got underway). Providers Choice is the largest of the lot.

Partners asserts (paragraph 99, page 30) that MDE continues to deny claims for reimbursement dating back to November 2021 and representing millions of dollars. Partners is pursuing action in state courts for those claims.