The free-food empire strikes back
The suspended nonprofit Partners in Nutrition wins a round in its appeal against the state Dept. of Education. One of three free-food nonprofits suspended in the wake of the Feeding…
In this ongoing alleged scandal, Feeding Our Future has received all the attention. The state of Minnesota, however, is moving to shut down another nonprofit network participating in the same Department of Education program. Not one person has been arrested or charged in the alleged scandal.
Known both as Partners in Quality Care and Partners in Nutrition, the St. Paul-based nonprofit was founded in 2015. As with Feeding Our Future, Partners participates in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). The USDA program primarily provides food to low-income children in day care and after-school program settings. It is a separate program from the more well-known school lunch program.
In Minnesota, the USDA’s agent for the program is the state Department of Education (MDE). It was MDE who shut down Feeding Our Future after the FBI raids last month. Now, MDE is taking steps to shut down Partners in Nutrition.
The Pioneer Press reported last month that MDE had cut off reimbursements to both the Feeding and Partners networks. The Star Tribune is now reporting that MDE is seeking to cancel contracts with Partners in Nutrition. Partners is expected to appeal the decision.
Feeding Our Future’s CEO, Aimee Bock, was a former employee at Partners until 2018, when she left to start her own nonprofit. In a recent interview, Bock claims that before the raid, the Feeding Our Future network was working with 200 vendors and feeding 100,000 children each day.
According to a database maintained by MDE, Feeding Our Future had 312 authorized sites for the program, approved for a maximum of 126,000 children. The MDE database indicates that for all nonprofits, there are nearly 2,000 approved sites across the state, authorized to serve a maximum of 952,000 enrollees. For comparison purposes, the total population of children under age 18 in Minnesota is 1.3 million.
Of the total number of sites and authorized capacity, Partners in Nutrition has accumulated an impressive share. Partners has in its network 569 authorized sites, with an authorized serving capacity of 668,000. Combined with the Feeding network, the two nonprofits sponsor 83 percent of the state’s entire CACFP capacity.
In its six years of existence, Partners in Nutrition has received almost $215 million in funding from MDE, and nearly $200 million of that total in just the last two years, according to data kept by the state of Minnesota.
In its four years of existence, Feeding Our Future has collected $248 million from MDE, again with the vast majority coming in the past two years. The totals for both programs include participation in a separate, but related, program for summer school students, the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). During the COVID-19 pandemic, rules on program participation were relaxed, as the usual sources for child meals (schools) were periodically shut down.
Included in the more than 500 authorized Partners in Nutrition sites are locations across Minnesota. However, the bulk of sites are to be found in the Twin Cities metro area. The average authorized service capacity at a Partners’ site exceeds 1,100. The Partners’ network includes some of the state’s largest authorized sites, with their top five having capacities of 5,500, 3,600, 3,000, 3,000, and 2,600 each, respectively.
Fewer in number, the Feeding Our Future sites are also smaller in size, with no one location authorized to serve more than 2,000. As with Partners, the Feeding Our Future network has locations across the state, but is concentrated in the Twin Cities metro region.
The Feeding Our Future locations that have received the most publicity in the past few weeks — the private restaurants and catering companies — are participants in the summer program. Feeding Our Future has authorized capacity from these additional 40 locations of 65,000 for each meal, breakfast and lunch.
The Partners’ network includes an additional 69 summer locations with a total authorized capacity of 67,000. As with Feeding Our Future, it is some of these locations that feature most prominently in the FBI search warrants. Partners says it has cut ties with those organizations. Partners itself was not listed as a location in any search warrant.
As a reminder, no person has been arrested or charged in this alleged scandal.