Free food marches on

Despite the Feeding Our Future scandal, Minnesota’s free-food programs continue to operate.

Immediately after the FBI raids in January, there were widespread concerns that children would not be fed with the shut down of three of the state’s largest free-food nonprofit networks by the state’s Department of Education (MDE). A quote from January 21:

“For many children, the meals they receive while they are at school and in care programs are the only meals they receive during the day,” MDE said in a statement. “Ensuring that children are not going hungry has been of particular concern during the COVID-19 pandemic because many families have faced economic uncertainties.”

Private charities agreed:

Minnesota nonprofits have desperately vied for funding during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep up with providing meals to the growing number of kids in need.

Thankfully, these fears turned out to be completely unfounded, as millions and millions of taxpayer dollars have continued to flow from the two main Federal free-food programs, the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP).

Schools, day care facilities, and churches continued to distribute free-food to children throughout 2022, with no interruptions. There have been no media reports of hungry children in Minnesota. If anything, free-food programs have expanded.

During the pandemic, the Feds waived income eligibility and other requirements of the programs. Now that those waivers are ending, the state is stepping in to expand free-food eligibility. The Sahan Journal reports,

For the past two years, schools have made free meals available to all students—no questions asked. That came about through a federal law to address the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But don’t worry,

Free meals will still be available for families below a certain income. But you need to fill out a form to apply.

And an estimated 90,000 additional students are now eligible through a new Federal pilot program. In addition, starting yesterday, more Minnesotans are eligible for food stamps.

Back in February, I documented how much money some of the largest free-food networks received over the past few years. The three largest nonprofits — not affiliated with schools or childcare networks — were shut down by MDE. These included Feeding Our Future, Partners in Nutrition, and Gar Gaar Family Services. None of these three networks have restarted.

But many other large networks are still going strong. Here are the latest figures, with Fiscal Year 2023 having begun in July. These millions of dollars, shown below, represent millions of meals.

A few of the above seem to have dropped out of the program since the pandemic ended. But the last one on the list — Gateway STEM Academy — is going stronger than ever. You will recall that the school’s founder Abdiaziz Farah, was implicated in the Feeding Our Future scandal.

Regardless, MDE continues to sign up new participants for the programs.

A row of catering trucks, poised to deliver free food.