Your Turn: Just Food seeks to restore trust, stability
Just Food, Douglas County’s largest food bank, needs the community’s help!
This is such a hard column to write because Jeremy Farmer, Just Food’s former executive director, was my friend. We worked together as city and county commissioners, sometimes with the opportunity to help the most vulnerable folks in our community, particularly the hungry. That’s why I was glad to say yes to Jeremy’s invitation to join Just Food’s board this year. After all, it’s a great organization with important work to do. But now, like so many others, I’m left scratching my head. The only work I’ve done on behalf of Just Food in the past couple of months is scrambling to keep its doors open. On the heels of a Jeremy-sized scandal, Just Food’s future is tenuous, at best.
I know many in the community are sure a different board would have managed better, perhaps averted this disaster, and I am in no position to argue against that criticism credibly. But the truth is, when the executive director of an agency has made what appears to be a deliberate and determined effort to hide financial information and divert funds for their own personal gain, it is difficult for any board to succeed.
Regardless, our Just Food board owns this mess — the good, the bad, and the ugly — because Jeremy is gone. We are doing our level best to fix Just Food, meet our IRS tax obligation, and regain your trust. We will right-size the organization, find savings everywhere we can and, if the community will support us, Just Food will get past this crisis and continue to provide good food to thousands of residents in Douglas County who rely on us, in part, for their daily bread.
Here’s what we need: $60,000 by the end of September. While we have been able to make partial payment to the IRS, we quickly need to pay the remainder of the tax bill or face what could very well be institutional bankruptcy. Of course, we also need more food, more monthly pledges, more volunteers and some extra community good will, too, but all of that is moot if we cannot get this tax liability behind us very soon.
Here’s what we’re doing to regain your trust:
- Just Food board members will help pay the IRS tax liability. To date, we have set aside over $10,450 from our own pockets to go toward the next IRS installment; 100 percent of the board members have contributed.
- While strong policies were already in place, it is clear they didn’t work. Even stronger policies will be adopted and married to a highly sensitized board demanding full accountability. You can be sure, now, that every donation lands where it belongs at Just Food and every dollar is accounted for. Period.
- We’re cleaning up the facility. On Monday, with the help of faithful volunteers and staff, we spent the entire day deep cleaning. Inside and out, we are making progress toward a fresh start.
- We will continue to work with the folks we’ve enlisted to help us through this tough time: our lawyers, Dan and Pat Watkins; our accountant, The McFadden Group; our auditor, Summers Spencer & Company; our non-profit board development consultant, Becky Price and, of course, our community partners. We are all working together to make sure the Just Food board takes the necessary legal, administrative and internal actions to become a better agency, accountable to our donors, for sure, and sustainable for the future. And for those who see dollar signs after every one of these consultants’ names, please know that an enormous amount of their time and service is provided to us pro bono or at greatly reduced cost. That’s a testament to the importance they place on the future of Just Food, and for their expertise and generosity in a time of need we are forever grateful.
Please don’t let the doors of Just Food close.
You can donate online: www.justfoodks.org, or send your check to Just Food, 1000 E. 11th St., Lawrence, KS 66046, or visit our new crowdsourcing site: www.crowdrise.com/keepthepantrydooropen.