The operators of the Chino Valley Food Bank are putting the final touches on their new building, and CVFB president Margot Salazar hopes the move will bring some stability to the organization that has recently taken some hits.
Salazar, along with her husband and fellow CVFB officer, Rudy, have been playing a little defense in recent weeks following the loss of a major contributor and allegations of misconduct by former volunteers.
Several weeks ago, volunteer and board member Norm Warner separated himself from the organization and contacted representatives from St. Mary's Food Bank Alliance, a Phoenix based organization and major contributor to the CVFB. Warner told St. Mary's that he had suspicions that unauthorized persons were taking food being donated to the CVFB, and some donations may have been sold to a Chino Valley Restaurant.
"A lot of food was coming into the food bank and then leaving the food bank, never to be seen again. They (the Salazars) were also storing stuff down at their house," said Warner, who had been associated with the CVFB for a little more than two years. "I thought 'That's it. I'm severing ties from this place,' because I'm not going to get in trouble for something I don't have any control over."
Warner said that in mid-April, St. Mary's delivered a large order that included at least five pallets of frozen chicken to the CVFB building on Voss Drive. Warner said that he saw those pallets move from the CVFB to the Chino Valley Senior Center across the parking lot on Butterfield Road.
Salazar said that because of the limited space at the CVFB, it had long been a practice to store overflow stock at her home and at the senior center.
"They don't have a walk-in freezer and we do," said senior center director Cyndi Thomas. "They would store it here and then come back and get it when they needed it. This was a way that one service organization was helping another and was a common practice between us. They help us and we help them. We're kind of in the same business, and that's what it's all about."
According to St. Mary's CEO Beverly Damore, it was this off-site storage that contributed to the separation between the CVFB and her organization.
"DES (Dept. of Economic Security) were the ones that made the decision to remove the food from the food bank," said Damore. "Because some of the food we distribute is a government commodity and we're under contract with DES they can tell us to do that."
Damore said that on April 17, St. Mary's, at the request of DES, removed all of their donations from both the CVFB and the senior center.
DES spokesperson Bryan Pahia stated in a written statement, "DES conducted a compliance monitoring site visit and noted commodities no longer at the Chino Valley Food Bank. There was no accounting for the missing commodities."
Thomas said St. Mary's knew about the off-site storage, especially frozen food, for quite some time.
"The pallets of chicken that were delivered in April were actually brought over by the St. Mary's driver by dolly," said Thomas. She said this was something that had been done multiple times.
A DES report said that dozens of cases of food were unaccounted for. Rudy Salazar said those items were reported missing because of an error on the part of the DES auditors.
"When they came in April to check, they only looked at the food bank and at the senior center," said Salazar. "We told them we had food stored in our garage, but they didn't count that."
Warner said that in the two-plus years he was associated with the CVFB, he also witnessed several of the volunteers taking food from the bank.
Margot Salazar said that several of the volunteers also were registered clients of the CVFB, eligible for the donations.
"For some of our clients, volunteering was a way for them to give back," said Salazar. "It was a way to help out an organization that had helped them, so yes, some of our volunteers did take food, but they were on file and eligible for it."
Salazar said that before Warner left the CVFB, she and her husband became suspicious that Warner himself was taking food without permission.
When asked about this, Warner admitted that he had taken food, but this was a common practice for the volunteers.
"Sure, people took food, it was kind of a payment thing," said Warner. "You volunteer all day long and don't get any payment per se', but I don't see anything wrong with the volunteers walking out of there at the end of the day with a box or a few items for their day's work."
In response to Warner's allegations that food was being sold to a local restaurant, Salazar said that Albert Marquez, a five-year CVFB volunteer and owner of the Oriental Express on Perkinsville Road, did on occasion take produce from the CVFB, but it was items that weren't fit for public distribution.
"He (Marquez) would take the fruits and vegetables that were rotting, that we were not allowed to give out," said Salazar.
Marquez said he would take home these discarded items to feed to his livestock and not to serve in his restaurant.
"Taking food for my restaurant? There is no truth to that at all," said Marquez. "I actually buy food like rice and beans in bulk to donate. This is something for me to do to give back to the community."
Salazar admitted that some of the discrepancies were the result of bad record keeping, but she is in the process of instituting stricter record keeping methods as they prepare to move into their new building, located at 740 Road 1 South.
"The most important thing is to get food to the people that need it," said Salazar. "If we see a family that needs food, maybe they have several children or they have to drive a long way to get here, we sometimes give them more. They may not be able to come back for a while, so we give them a little extra."
One long-time supporter of the CVFB hasn't been discouraged by the St. Mary's - DES issue is the local Safeway store.
Steve Cotton, recently retired Safeway manager, said he has asked his replacement to continue the partnership with the CVFB.
"They have been very good, and irregardless of any internal issues over there," said Cotton. "That should never get in the way of the hungry people that need their help. That's what the job's all about and Safeway will continue that relationship. The main focus is that there are people that need help, let's help them."
As to any future relationship between the CVFB and DES or St. Mary's, Pahia's statement said the CVFB is welcome to re-apply as a distribution site for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) if "the CVFB is able to comply with all terms noted on the TEFAP USDA Commodity Food Service Application and Agreement."
Salazar said with or without the DES, the CVFB will go on.
"Our goal is to feed the hungry. If we have to buy the food out of our own pocket, then that's what we'll do."
The CVFB's new location at 740 Road 1 South is expected to open by the end of June.
Call the CVFB at 928-636-8478 for more information.
Posted: Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Article comment by:
Hm-m-m-m You call yourself a volunteer?
Norm Walker shouldn't volunteer if he expects payment, in ANY form. When you volunteer, you VOLUNTEER. If you want food then make a donation to the Food Bank. Simple as that. There have been too many volunteers at the Food Bank who think it's OK to walk out the door with food. I hope the Salazars can keep the food bank going because people here need it. People don't need to spend gas money to go into Prescott for food.