A leader of a local food bank is seeking to reassure area residents that food donated at KU’s recent Late Night at the Phog is being used to help the hungry in Douglas County.
Carolyn Ward, interim coordinator for Lawrence-based Just Food, said concerns that the donated food was being diverted for use by a Kansas City-based food bank are incorrect.
“Absolutely, without missing one can or one pound of food, it all will be used here in Douglas County,” Ward said.
Confusion had started to surface because Kansas City-based Harvesters was on site at the Late Night at the Phog event. But Ward said Harvesters was at the Kansas University basketball event on behalf of Just Food, a local food bank run by ECKAN.
Ward said the 3,004 pounds of food donated at the event were transported to Harvesters’ warehouse in Kansas City. But she said the two local food pantries — The Salvation Army and the Trinity Interfaith Food Pantry — that signed up to be partners in the Late Night event were given credits to each receive 1,502 pounds of food from the Harvesters warehouse.
It was the first year that Harvesters has served as the central warehouse for the event. Ward said the change was made because Harvesters’ involvement provides more flexibility to the local food pantries. Ward said since the donated food is converted into credits with Harvesters, the food pantries are able to order food from Harvesters when they most need it and they are able to order the types of food they are lacking.
“If what they really need is tuna fish, and no tuna fish was donated at the event, they can use their credit to order it from Harvesters,” Ward said.
But the Late Night food drive was different in another way too. Only local food pantries that have become a paying member partner of Just Food were allowed to receive an equal share of the donated food collected at the event. The Salvation Army and Trinity both pay monthly fees ranging from $250 to $500 to be part of the Just Food network, so they received the bulk of the food donated at the event, Ward said.
The Lawrence-based Ballard Community Center, however, has not become a paid member of the Just Food network. Ballard was allowed to take from the Late Night event about 300 pounds of food, which was the amount volunteers were able to fit into Ballard’s van.
Paul Youk, director of human services for Ballard, said the idea of paying to have access to donated food is troubling.
“It just seems like it is a situation where we are going to have pantries begin competing for donated food,” Youk said.
But Ward said Just Food needed to start generating some revenue from the food pantries it serves in order to help cover the nearly $135,000 in operating expenses of Just Food. The Just Food food bank has been operating in a warehouse at 1200 E. 11th St. for a little more than a year.
For the first year of operation, the food bank did not charge food pantries any fees for storing their food at the warehouse. But beginning Oct. 1, Just Food implemented at three-tiered partner system:
• The first tier allows food pantries to continue to use the Just Food warehouse for free, but only for food that is bought from Harvesters at 10 cents per pound.
• The second tier allows members to pay $250 per month — plus the 10 cent per pound fee — to store food at the Just Food Warehouse. The $250 fee also allows the food pantry to participate in any jointly organized food drives put together by Just Food. The fee also allows food pantries to store at Just Food any food that is donated directly to their pantry.
• The third tier allows members to pay a $500 per month fee. The fee entitles the food pantries everything that is in tier two, plus free delivery of food from the Just Food warehouse to their local pantry.
Ward said the fees are expected to cover no more about 25 percent of Just Food’s overall operating expenses. She said charging a fee to pantries is common among other food banks.
“We think it is fair because they obviously are accessing a service that costs somebody money,” Ward said.
But Youk said he believes the changes haven’t been well communicated, and that he wished Just Food would look at different funding models.
“I think the community is under the impression that donations from these community food drive events are going to be divided among the local food pantries as equitably as possible,” Youk said. “But we’ll see, and we’ll keep working on it.”