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'That's Not Real': Nonprofits Express Disbelief, Frustration, Concern Over Alleged $200M Fraud By 'Feeding Our Future'

Originally published Jan. 27, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Twin Cities nonprofits say they're upset, frustrated and concerned regarding the alleged $200 million fraud from an organization claiming to be one of their own.

Last Thursday, Federal agents raided nearly a dozen homes and workplaces linked to Feeding Our Future -- a nonprofit claiming to be feeding tens of thousands of hungry kids. According to an affidavit, an investigation into the group's spending shows allegedly none of the money was spent on children -- rather on cars, homes and more.

"I've never heard of the organization. Couldn't believe that they were right down the street from us," said Cathy Maes, who serves as the executive director for Loaves and Fishes. "I couldn't even understand the dollar amounts that I was reading in the newspaper. That's not real."

Loaves and Fishes, based on Minneapolis' northeast side, served more than four million meals in 2021. Many of those meals were funded by the same USDA programs that Feeding Our Future allegedly defrauded, Maes says.

"[The programs are] very stringent," she said. "It's a rigorous program that takes a lot of data. It takes a lot of oversight."

Maes says anyone investigating Feeding Our Future's spending habits would be able to see the group wasn't complying.

"I can show you document after document after document, all the meals that we have served," she said. "And we have to keep those documents for six years. We're audited. We have unannounced visits from the Department of Education who come in and watch from the minute we start cooking until the last floor is mopped."

Hours after the federal investigation into Feeding Our Future was made public, state Republicans called for an audit of Minnesota's COVID-19 spending.

Loaves And Fishes
(credit: CBS)

This hurts groups who are attempting to use the system of federal support for the right reasons, says Marcus Pope. He's president of Youthprise, also based on the city's northeast side.

"We've seen fraud in the public sector, the private sector, and in the nonprofit sector. Those oftentimes are the exception, not the rule," said Pope.

Since 2014, Youthprise has worked to serve meals to children through USDA programs. Those programs, he says, have razor-thin margins and strict requirements for participants.

"We have to go through audits fairly consistently," Pope said. "They even audit the programs that we monitor. Randomly pick sites that we support to make sure we're administering the program within the regulations."

In 2020, Pope said Youthprise amassed nearly $3 million in food costs -- something he says is reflective of the need for programs in the state.

"We have about 500,000 people living in poverty, many are children," he said. "My first response [to Feeding Our Future] is how is this gonna impact our ability to meet the needs of the community and serve young people, children and youth food? We've already heard chatter about increased scrutiny and regulation due to what happened. I think we need to hold bad actors accountable, and we need to support those who operate these programs responsibly and with integrity."

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