The alleged Feeding Our Future scandal: Faribault and Owatonna

Digging deeper into the alleged free-food scandal uncovers fascinating stories in outstate Minnesota communities. It’s amazing how quickly the unlikely coincidences pile up.

Yesterday, we looked at Willmar, Minnesota. Today, we venture south of the Twin Cities metro area.

Faribault and Owatonna are two Minnesota cites lying due south of Minneapolis along Interstate 35. Faribault has a current population of about 24,000, with Owatonna a little larger at 26,000. Each city would have about 6,000 and 7,300 children, respectively.

Despite their small sizes, each city boasts significant free food capacity. The alleged Feeding Our Future scandal involves two federal programs: the year-round Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). Both programs are overseen locally by the state Department of Education (MDE).

For those of you just tuning in, back in January, the FBI raided the offices of the nonprofit Feeding Our Future, alleging massive fraud. As a result, MDE suspended the operations of Feeding Our Future and two loosely related nonprofits: Partners in Nutrition (d/b/a Partners in Quality Care) and Youth Leadership Academy (d/b/a/ Gar Gaar Family Services). Not one person has been arrested or indicted in the case.

Collectively, the three nonprofits sponsored hundreds of sites around the state, said to be capable of feeding hundreds of thousands of children daily. It turns out that both Faribault and Owatonna hosted sites for all three free food networks.

According to MDE databases, Faribault has the following free food capacity,

As you can see above, there is enough free food distribution capacity (at least on paper) to feed every child in Faribault.

Digging into the numbers, some interesting overlaps appear. Both Partners in Nutrition and Youth Leadership Academy (d/b/a Gar Gaar Family Services) had been sponsoring sites at the Faribault offices of the nonprofit Somali Community Resettlement Services, each under a different program. Together with a site hosted by the nonprofit Somali American Faribault Education, those two sites claimed capacity to serve 5,000 children daily, representing roughly half of the city’s free food capacity.

Partners in Nutrition sponsored a site at the Four Seasons apartment complex. The apartment complex includes 144 units. The site, with a capacity of up to 600 children per day, was hosted by Mind Foundry, a nonprofit whose offices were searched by the FBI back in January.

Feeding Our Future sponsored a site hosted by the nonprofit Unity Social Service, a nonprofit first incorporated in December 2020. Feeding also sponsored a site hosted by “Botaan.” A Botaan Foundation was incorporated in August 2021. It is not clear if the two are related.

The Cannon River STEM school appears twice on the above list. The site was originally sponsored by the local public school district, but later by the charter school itself.

MDE’s data bases tell a similar story for Owatonna—

As with Faribault and Willmar, Owatonna contains enough free food capacity to feed all of the city’s children.

Partners in Nutrition sponsored four sites in Owatonna hosted by Mind Foundry. Partners also sponsored a site hosted by Somali Community Resettlement Services.

The same site was sponsored by Youth Leadership Academy under the summer program. With a capacity of 2,000 children per day, it was the city’s largest single free food site. It was listed at 147 W. Bridge Street, depicted below,

In more coincidences, both Partners in Nutrition and Feeding Our Future sponsored sites at the same two apartment complexes in the city. Stranger and stranger.