Gar Gaar (re)visited

We visit two sites closely associated with the third free-food network shut down by the state Department of Education (MDE).

At the time it was shut down by MDE, Gar Gaar Family Services (a/k/a Youth Leadership Academy) was the third largest non-school food-distribution nonprofit network after Feeding Our Future and Partners in Nutrition. “Gar Gaar” alternately means “help” or “special” depending on the internet translator you use.

Neither Gar Gaar nor any of its member nonprofits were mentioned in the FBI search warrants or linked to Feeding Our Future. There have been no arrests or charges in the case, anyway.

Before it was shut down by MDE in December, Gar Gaar took in almost $24 million in just six months of program participation, and was said to have served more than 7 million meals across 30 sites located around the state. We visited Gar Gaar’s headquarters building last week in NE Minneapolis.

Gar Gaar’s suspension from the Federal Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) was overturned on appeal. However, they have yet to be reinstated to the program.

Gar Gaar is contesting MDE’s decision to deny participation of the nonprofit in a second federal free-food program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), in the state Court of Appeals.

MDE’s decision in the latter case (linked above) alleges financial malfeasance on an industrial scale. Among the items cited by MDE: paying unlicensed vendors, paying vendors without supporting invoices, paying invoices without supporting detail, paying vendors not registered as businesses, not deducting payroll taxes, and the list goes on.

Of particular note was a single transaction for over $650,000 marked as a “miscellaneous debit.” In explaining this and other dodgy transactions, Gar Gaar hinted at troubles with its banking relationships and incidents of frozen accounts. Items filed under “miscellaneous debit” totaled more than $2 million.

MDE also cited in its denial efforts by Gar Gaar to transfer sites being operated by other networks.

4020 Minnehaha Avenue in Minneapolis is the headquarters of the nonprofit Somali Community Resettlement Services (SCRS). Under Gar Gaar, SCRS operated three of the network’s largest distribution sites, in Faribault, Owatonna, and Rochester.

Separate from Gar Gaar, under the Partners in Nutrition banner, SCRS claimed a 2,500 children/day distribution site at this same 4020 address. At second nonprofit claimed a 300-child distribution site here.

There is no parking available at this site, except on the street.

Somali Community Resettlement had previously registered a large distribution site at 3355 Hiawatha Avenue, a few blocks away, also under the Partners in Nutrition banner:

The SCRS site was one of three registered by Partners at this office complex off Route 55, with a maximum capacity across the three of 8,000 children per day. The site has limited parking, most of which is taken up by the adjacent car rental agency.

The use of nonprofits to deliver public services is a growing trend across state government. Advocates of the practice cite the greater flexibility enjoyed by private, nonprofit corporations.

But the example of Gar Gaar, with such low levels of oversight and transparency, should be help up as a counter example to the practice.