Fort Mill Times

Clover center cuts ties with Second Harvest Food Bank

Client Cathy Cook and volunteer Julie Young peruse the pantry setup at Clover Area Assistance Center. The agency has cut its ties with Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina.
Client Cathy Cook and volunteer Julie Young peruse the pantry setup at Clover Area Assistance Center. The agency has cut its ties with Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina.

Clover Area Assistance Center will no longer receive food from Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina, leaving the nonprofit without solutions for replacing most of its stock.

The Clover center’s board voted in late March to end its relationship of more than 15 years with Second Harvest following several incidents dating to 2012.

“It drastically impacts us,” said Karen van Vierssen, CAAC director. “It drastically impacts our community, and it has nothing to do with feeding people.”

Before the March vote, about 38 percent of CAAC’s food came from community donations. The remaining food came from Second Harvest. More than 60 percent of the Second Harvest food came free through The Emergency Food Assistance Program. The rest cost 16 cents per pound.

CAAC is looking for new places to shop. The nearest regional food bank in Spartanburg is run by Second Harvest, a 19-county organization based in Charlotte. Several grocery store chains are tied to Second Harvest so they can no longer partner with CAAC.

CAAC is looking to partner with a food bank in Columbia that charges 19 cents per pound.

“It changes everything,” said board member Jason Everson.

What happened

A November letter from CAAC to more than 30 Second Harvest board members outlined a string of incidents causing a strained relationship.

In December 2012, a CAAC volunteer driver hit a fence at the Second Harvest facility in Charlotte while picking up food. Everson, CAAC board president, said the center took responsibility.

“They clipped the fence,” he said. “We filed an insurance claim to repair the fence.”

A similar incident occurred in June 2014, Second Harvest told CAAC that drivers would no longer be allowed to use the loading dock and would have to load from the street. Everson said his volunteers were told where to park to load, but Second Harvest workers continued to direct them to the loading dock.

In October, CAAC had its food suspended for two weeks after using the loading dock at the request of Second Harvest workers. Everson said his group tried to resolve the issue, and was told a grievance hearing was the only route. CAAC filed in October for a hearing, which was held in January.

After the hour-and-a-half hearing with Second Harvest board members and directors from agencies similar to CAAC, a letter from the Second Harvest agency relations committee arrived March 2. The result was one year probation. Terms included CAAC would no longer receive the free federal TEFAP food, CAAC would not collect food for the backpack program between Second Harvest and Clover School District, and only paid CAAC drivers and shoppers would be allowed at Second Harvest.

The conditions in the letter also state CAAC could not communicate concerns “to the public, donors, other agencies and the media.”

CAAC instead voted later that month to terminate the partnership.

Kay Carter, CEO of Second Harvest, declined to provide details.

“We make an effort not to comment publicly on private details concerning relationships with our partner agencies,” she said.

What now?

There is no way to replace the free TEFAP food, allocated through Feeding America and its partner organizations, such as Second Harvest. CAAC, which serves the same boundaries as Clover School District, can’t receive it from outside the Second Harvest service area.

In the March letter from the agency relations committee, Second Harvest states it will make other arrangements to get TEFAP and backpack program food to Clover residents and students.

“We currently have a system in place which enables Clover (federal food) to be distributed through a series of mobile pantries that will be held at various locations throughout the Clover area,” Carter said.

One pantry was held and more are being scheduled, she said. The TEFAP program is allocated to counties based on poverty levels. Amounts vary from month to month.

“To date, there has been no lapse in distributing the allocation in Clover,” Carter said.

The backpack program, which fills about 200 backpacks with food per week, are paid for and packed by Second Harvest for delivery to the school district. The role CAAC played, Carter said, was delivery. She said she contacted the school district to let them know the backpacks will keep coming.

“When CAAC notified Second Harvest they no longer wished to continue our partnership, a Second Harvest driver was directed to deliver the backpacks each week and will continue to do so moving forward,” Carter said.

The federal food usually comes in four to six pallets per month, and sometimes as many as 10. What remains in CAAC stock from past pick-ups is enough for “a couple months at least,” van Vierssen said.

“Meat is one place we are going to hurt,” she said.

The center is out of meat. Produce is another concern. In summer, gardeners often bring food for distribution.

“The quality and variety of food we get has always come from community donations,” van Vierssen said.

Without the Second Harvest partnership, donations are paramount. The center is considering everything from cherry-picking discount stores to using coupons.

“We have got to make a greater effort to organize,” van Vierssen said.

CAAC still has federal food stocked on its shelves. Nothing will change in the way clients sign up or verify information, at least until the federal food is gone.

“It’s down the road when we look at what the impact will be,” van Vierssen said.

John Marks •  803-831-8166