In the alleged Feeding Our Future scandal, the role of S&S Catering, Part 3

In this mini-series, we have been exploring the role played by S&S Catering, one of three primary food vendors implicated in the alleged Feeding Our Future scandal. Not one person has been arrested or charged, to date.

One of the locations, searched by the FBI on Jan. 20, was an office in a nondescript office building on University Avenue in St. Paul, just east of Highway 280 (subject premises No. 3).

The object of the search was a nonprofit called Youth Inventor’s Lab, founded by Bekam Merdassa.

Here is an old photo of the building.

According to records held by the state Department of Education, the office at 2434 University Avenue West hosted a free food distribution site for the since-disbanded nonprofit Feeding Our Future, capable of serving up to 3,000 children per day. Unit 2434 is the office on the far right. Youth Inventor’s Lab is listed as participating under the Children and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and being supplied by S&S Catering. MDE’s most recent database has the maximum capacity listed at 500 children per day.

The FBI asserts that Youth Inventor’s Lab claimed that it distributed a beyond-capacity 3,300 meals per day in February 2021 (page 15, paragraph 53).

The FBI claims that Mr. Merdassa (p. 7, para. 26) owns Epic Therapy, an autism clinic, with its operations at 2430 (third doorway from right) and business office at 2434. A professional database lists Mr. Merdassa with an additional location at 2432 (the second door on the right).

Epic Therapy is listed in the MDE database as a site for the now-suspended Partners in Nutrition (d/b/a Partners in Quality Care) network. Under the CACFP, the site has a listed capacity of 5,500 per day, one of the largest single locations in Minnesota.

Looking back on the photograph above, the 2434 storefront was said to be capable of serving 3,000 children per day; at the same time, the 2430 storefront had a listed capacity of 5,500. That’s 8,500 children per day out of a rather small building.

The FBI claims that Youth Inventor’s Lab received $3.6 million in free-food money, the bulk of which was forwarded on to S&S Catering (para. 55 through 57).

For earlier entries in the S&S Catering miniseries, see Part 1 and Part 2.