Food fight

The transparency shoe is on the other foot for Chris Moran of the IFC. At different phases of the re-siting of the men’s shelter on Homestead Road, Moran has been accused of a lack of transparency. Now, he wants transparency from PORCH, a local nonprofit in the business of collecting and distributing food to the poor that wants to piggyback on IFC’s reputation.

IFC is perhaps the best-known and longest-running of several organizations that feed the hungry, not only through meals at its shelter on West Rosemary Street but by handing out bags of nonperishable groceries at its food pantry in Carrboro.

On Mother’s Day in 2010, three local women – Christine Cotton, Debbie Horwitz and Susan Romaine – launched PORCH, People Offering Relief for Chapel Hill-Carrboro Homes, to provide fresh produce for Burmese refugee families who were not used to eating the canned vegetables, instant potatoes and peanut butter given out at the food pantry. Cotton, Horwitz and Romaine recruited volunteers in Chapel Hill and Carrboro neighborhoods to collect food and money from their neighbors to provide the produce.

As the number of PORCH donors grew, PORCH founders talked to food pantries about accepting some of the canned food it could not use. Moran met with PORCH founders and said that IFC would accept food PORCH collected, unless PORCH got into direct services beyond helping the Burmese refugees it already gave food to.

PORCH took off like a tweet, growing to 2,000 donors, collecting nearly 8,700 bags of food and more than $68,000 in cash this year. Though its website indicates it gave IFC 1,971 bags of food this year so far, Moran said the IFC gets only 100 to 125 bags a month. Romaine, of PORCH, said none of the pantries receive any money from PORCH; she said all of the money collected goes to buy fresh produce that PORCH distributes directly to families.

Earlier this month, Executive Service Corps conducted a study at the behest of an organization that donates substantial money to local charities to assess the efficiency of food pantries to make sure efforts were not duplicated. Moran became aware that PORCH had created a direct services arm called Food for Families. The IFC board of directors and another food bank, TABLE, decided to cut ties with PORCH.

Moran said he sent an email to PORCH founders informing them of the board’s decision and wishing PORCH well. He got no response. So he sent a second email, this time including the PORCH precinct captains, that they were not to use IFC’s name in their fliers. PORCH founders emailed back that they would like to continue an association with IFC.

Romaine said she hopes PORCH and IFC can work things out at a meeting Monday with Executive Service Corps. Moran said he was not told of any such meeting. If he had known of a meeting, he would have asked for a different date as he will be away Monday.

As long as PORCH sticks with providing fresh produce and IFC does not, the two organizations should work just fine separately. And if so, we hope PORCH will work cooperatively with and learn from the already established food distribution nonprofits. There is plenty of need to go around.

Happy Thanksgiving.
– Nancy Oates

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16 Comments

  1. Road Warrior

     /  November 24, 2011

    The IFC is scared of losing a little grant money. They are acting more like a 501 (c) 4 than a 501 (c) 3. For an organization that says it cannot handle the need to then refuse help shows you everything you need to know.

    When it becomes more about PR and buildings than making sure that everyone gets fed, it’s time for new, responsible leadership at the IFC.

  2. Road Warrior

     /  November 24, 2011

    Also, back to playing PR. 125 bags per month is about 1500 bags.

  3. John Kramer

     /  November 24, 2011

    What else would one expect from an organization that behaved so badly in relocating its shelter?

  4. Nancy Oates

     /  November 24, 2011

    I’ve got to side with IFC on this one. Though PORCH is well-intentioned, what they’ve created is a stratified system of helping the needy. If you happen to go to one of the three schools where social workers are making referrals to PORCH, and you come to the attention of the social worker, and the social worker likes you, and you live in a section of town where a volunteer would feel safe delivering food, then you get better-tasting healthier food not available to someone not selected. IFC has to serve anyone who shows up; the person doesn’t have to be sane, washed, likable or even demonstrate neediness. I don’t like to see elitism creep into how we help the poor.

  5. runner

     /  November 24, 2011

    Nancy,

    Do you really want to get in the middle of a squabble amoung local charities?

  6. Road Warrior

     /  November 24, 2011

    Nancy:

    Then what does TABLE have to do with it? Table is doing outreach at Rashkis (not exactly a poor place – Meadomont).

    I don’t think what you are saying is that the PORCH folks should let kids who happen to be liked by a Social Worker, etc. starve, that would be a little strange.

    Let’s flip this. What if I am working class poor and a little too proud or scared myself to go to the part of town the IFC serves? I don’t think this is elitism at all. I work in Downtown Durham and pass 10 Homeless men and women everyday going to work – nice folks mostly, except for the crazy guy who yells at cars.

    People say the darnedest things when they are trying to be Politically Correct. This is an example of that. My father grew up very poor, but he was also very proud. He may not have sought help. However, it was precisely because a teacher/coach noticed this that he and his brothers got help through charity discreetly.

    Those of us who know the poor as family, not as recipients, have a much different perspective on this. I know people who would rather starve than take food from an organization for the Homeless. It’s dumb. I disagree with it. But that’s reality.

    I do think that PORCH should make a distinction and perhaps start its own Food Pantry if the IFC won’t accept its donations. It seems to me that there is enough of a need that everyone will have plenty of work to do.

    Perhaps, they could use that old car dealership. I heard some folks cleaned it up or something….

  7. Fred Black

     /  November 24, 2011

    Students at Rashkis come from a variety of places, including Town public housing. As usual, this is a complex situation and just doesn’t lend itself to simplistic judgments. This is the reason the foundation that hired ESC did so in the first place.

  8. runner

     /  November 24, 2011

    Fred,

    I agree with you that this is a complex situation with a number of interests involved. And, obviously there is only so much grant money to go around.

    So, who is this “Foundation” the you and Nancy refer to? Also, what were ESC’s findings in their study?

  9. Fred Black

     /  November 24, 2011

    Stroud Roses Foundation, Inc., and as board member, I don’t plan on commenting. Their work is not completed and it would be best to let the process play out.

  10. runner

     /  November 24, 2011

    Fair enough Fred. Thanks for the reply and have a great Thanksgiving holiday.

  11. Fred, I’m trying to understand the recent news reports, comments, tweets and posts on this issue but am a bit confused.

    Did Stroud Roses decide independently to commission a study by ESC on improving food pantry distribution efficiency in general? Or was this a study of IFC’s, TABLE’s or PORCH’s operations? Did the preliminary findings lead in an incidental way to this break between partners or was that one of the expected outcomes?

    I’m familiar with the operations of all three organizations and don’t quite get what is the disconnect.

  12. Fred Black

     /  November 24, 2011

    Stroud has several projects working, including the study of youth serving orgs and the one looking at food distribution orgs. We do these because we often get grant requests from orgs doing similar things but not fully understanding what others are doing. Our goals were zzznot about the distribution itself but how we could get the maximum impact with our dollars provided. Since 2000, we have distributed $3M to Chapel Hill & Carrboro and making the most efficient use of the money is our goal. ESC identified some issues as they did their work and we are awaiting the completion of their examination and the final report.

  13. Thank you Fred. From what I’ve read it seems like tighter collaboration to avoid duplication of effort and confusion is what is called for rather than disengagement. I look forward to reading the ESC report.

  14. runner

     /  November 24, 2011

    By reading the article on the Chapelboro website, it’s obvious that Chris Moran and the IFC were the one’s that “dropped” PORCH. It also apears from the quotes that Chris was more than willing to talk to the press about it.

    Couple that with the competition for grant money, and this whole matter looks like a preemptive PR attack by the IFC to protect their donor channel. Otherwise, I find no reason why Chris Moran and the IFC would be drawing attention to PORCH.

    By the way, I have no affiliation with PORCH.

  15. Terri Buckner

     /  November 25, 2011

    Non-profit orgs rely on ‘donor channel’s’ to do their work. So if (and this is just presupposition based on Runner’s conclusions) they are protecting their donor channel, doesn’t that mean they are making decisions that affect their ability to do good work? Sounds like a smart decision to me.

  16. Nancy Oates

     /  November 25, 2011

    Runner, I’m not trying to get in the middle of a squabble, only increase the transparency, to use a buzz word. PORCH posted two letters on its website leaving the impression that they were the victims and insinuating that IFC and TABLE were bad guys. Although I’m uncomfortable with PORCH’s elitism, it seems PORCH can fill a niche by offering fresh produce, something the food pantries can’t do. I’m also curious why PORCH has not called IFC or TABLE to ask why they’re distancing themselves. When I asked Romaine that, she said it was IFC’s responsibility to call PORCH.

    The founders of PORCH seem well-intentioned. They could learn a lot from the established food pantries. If PORCH takes a seat at the food pantry coalition meetings and learns an equitable way to distribute fresh produce, everyone wins. Why waste energy trying to bash IFC and TABLE?

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