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CAFI ends monthly food program with Feeding the Valley

Community Action for Improvement is temporarily closing its monthly food commodity program after ending its partnership with the local Feeding the Valley foodbank. CAFI is still running its emergency food pantry, but ended its commodity program due to ‘professional reasons,’ according to Niekiha Jones, director of services at CAFI.

“As CAFI, we really felt that serving as close to 200 people a month, we were no longer in a space to work with an organization that didn’t value the same mission and principles that we value, which is treating all people, all clients with humility, respect and professionalism,” Jones said. “Unfortunately, due to differences in management styles and due to differences in organizational capacity, we made a decision to step away from our previous partnership and look into different ways to build upon the food commodity program. It’s a very seamless experience for those who participate in it, and that as an organization, we make sure that the service we’re putting out in the community is actually reflective of our mission and our values.”

Jones said they ended the commodity program in December. According to an email from Sherry Hendrix, CAFI administrative manager, they do not expect the program to restart until spring 2019.

CAFI, which provides assistance to low-income clients, temporarily closed for approximately one month from October to November due to pending funding for different programs. Frank Sheppard, president and CEO of Feeding the Valley, said they had a hard time reaching out to CAFI when it was closed for its monthly food commodity distributions in LaGrange and Luthersville and were still unable to reach CAFI after it reopened.

“They’ve gone two months where they have not received the distribution,” Sheppard said. “We needed to ensure we could have a site up and running to make sure that we could get food to the hungry in those two counties.”

Jones said Feeding the Valley provided the food, and CAFI has been responsible for distributing it. Sheppard said they haven’t received complaints of communication or organization from its other 285 companies.

“Our email addresses and our phone numbers here at the main location are known to everybody within CAFI, and we did our best to try to communicate with them about the November drops, and we got no response,” Sheppard said. “We did our best to communicate with them, but we cannot send a truck on a hundred-mile roundtrip with 200 boxes of food on it if we don’t know if there are going to be people there to receive the food and people to organize the site. And our trucks are maxed out in their capacity every day, so we had to be sure there was going to be someone there, and there was no response from CAFI.”

About 150 to 200 people are served through the food commodity program. Sheppard said this doesn’t affect those who use the program since they are still doing food drops. The next food drop will be Jan. 9 at Fountain Church from 9 a.m. to noon, according to Steve Watson, director of operations at Feeding the Valley.

Jones said staff and volunteers experienced issues in organization and communication with leaders at Feeding the Valley. Jones said they tried reaching out to Feeding the Valley, but felt like they weren’t being met half-way.

“On multiple occasions, there were repeated issues of mis-deliveries, lack of communication with leadership here at this agency, lack of representation at our agency in terms of who they reach out to,” Jones said. “There had been multiple, I would say accusations, but more importantly experiences where staff and volunteers weren’t treating with respect and professionalism. There had been multiple accounts of leadership staff or operations staff at Feeding the Valley who just didn’t seem to utilize communication style that we felt was effective, professional and concise.”

Sheppard said Feeding the Valley has made similar complaints about CAFI employees not treating them with respect and professionalism.

“They also claim that there was an inappropriate conversation from our staff member to them, and we know that that is not the case,” Sheppard said. “We have witnesses who heard the conversation and know that the words they claim were said were not. When it comes down to it, I discussed with their CEO the issues we were having. It’s clear that we manage our organizations in different ways, value different things, and as I said, the most important thing to us is that there are hungry people in these counties who were not being fed because of the communication and effectiveness levels of CAFI. We just can’t have that happen, so we needed to find other partners who would ensure folks are reliably fed these food subsidies on a monthly basis.”

Jones said CAFI will now focus on making the emergency food pantry its main goal, and it will continue to pay for it through its own funding. 

“CAFI’s main goal is that we have to make decisions that support our clients and align with our mission and our vision,” Jones said. “And when a partnering agency is unwilling or unable to meet us in the middle on that, we have to make hard decisions. In the long run, our goal is to provide professional service to all clients. No matter if it’s through us or through a partner — if someone is partnering through us, we consider it through us.”