The alleged Feeding Our Future scandal: Mankato

This stop on the free-food fraud tour brings us to the south-central Minnesota city of Mankato. This town of 44,000 is home to Minnesota State University (which advanced to this year’s Frozen Four men’s hockey championship) and lies about an hour-and-a-half drive southwest from Minneapolis.

The city is also home to 30 free-food distribution sites. Not one person has been arrested or charged in the alleged scandal, which involves two federal free-food programs: the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). Locally, these programs are overseen by the state’s Department of Education (MDE).

According to databases maintained by MDE, Mankato contains the following free-food distribution capacity:

Not included in the above totals are any sites located in the adjacent city of North Mankato. The city of Mankato, proper, includes about 7,500 children. The local public school district, along with private and charter schools, registered enough capacity with MDE to serve the city’s entire population of children.

Other free-food providers include some familiar names. The nonprofit Feeding Our Future operated one location in Mankato, hosted by the nonprofit Stigma Free International. Stigma Free’s Mankato operation was discussed in FBI search warrant no. 1 (page 24, paragraph 81). The FBI included an invoice submitted to the state. The invoice claimed that Stigma Free (supplied by the Safari Restaurant of Minneapolis) served exactly 2,000 children, both breakfast and lunch, every day for the month of July 2021.

Those 124,000 meals, worth $440,000, were allegedly served out of this warehouse on 1st Avenue in Mankato.

At a capacity of 2,000 children per day, this warehouse is alleged to have fed more children in Mankato than either of the city’s high schools.

The previous year, Feeding Our Future sponsored a second location in Mankato with a maximum capacity of 3,000 children per day.

Partners in Nutrition sponsored three sites in Mankato. The largest was hosted by the East African Health Network and catered by a company called Midwest Pizza.

Midwest Pizza was incorporated in January 2021 and is located at the same address as a nonprofit called the East African Healthcare Network. That nonprofit operates its own network of free-food distribution sites; however, none are located in Mankato. Their seven locations around the Twin Cities metro area are all catered by Midwest Pizza. This network took in more than $2 million in its first year of operation as a separate entity.

Two other sites were operated by Partners in Nutrition in Mankato. One was operated by the Horn of Africa Aid and Rehabilitation Action Network. This nonprofit is headquartered in St. Peter. The third site was hosted by the South Sudanese Community of Minnesota. This nonprofit is based in Mankato and was founded in February 2020.

Finally, Youth Leadership Academy operated one site in Mankato, hosted by the local Islamic Center. Mankato hosted free-food distribution sites by all three networks shut down by MDE: Feeding Our Future, Partners in Nutrition (d/b/a Partners in Quality Care) and Youth Leadership Academy (d/b/a Gar Gaar Family Serices).