EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The El Paso food bank’s top executive says the organization is waiting on $1.5 million in funding from the city.
Susan Goodell, CEO of El Pasoans Fighting Hunger Food Bank, wrote an internal newsletter to her board of directors describing “significant challenges” associated with a $3.2 million award from the city last year. In the document, Goodell seemed to indicate the food bank had not received a $1.5 million portion of the money due to issues relating to a requirement where records needed to be digitized.
But in an interview alongside Nicole Ferrini, the city’s chief resilience officer, Goodell told news media on Tuesday afternoon, the food bank and city were working together.
“The food bank and the city have been working in lock-step I think from the time I moved to El Paso more than three years ago now,” Susan Goodell, CEO of El Pasoans Fighting Hunger Food Bank said.
Tuesday’s interview did not clearly reveal when or whether the food bank would receive the funds Goodell had claimed to be missing. And, it is still unclear whether the funds are from community development block grants or from the federal government’s coronavirus relief package last year.
Federal stipulations for the coronavirus relief money required funds to be spent by a certain time period.
Ferrini said disbursing federal funds into the community comes with prerequisites.
“Federal funds can be complicated. They come with requirements,” Ferrini said. “We are proud, proud, to continue to work with the food bank. To make sure we comply with those federally mandated regulations.”
KTSM 9 News obtained an email authored by Susan Goodell, CEO of El Pasoans Fighting Hunger Food Bank, to board of directors that says over $1 million in community development and block grants are being withheld and it may be over a record keeping requirement.
The city awarded $3.2 million in stimulus funding to the food bank last year in response to COVID-19 pandemic last year.
In the document, Goodell explains 29 AmeriCorps Fellows were assigned with digitizing a searchable database of paper documents for 190,000 individuals. When the Food Bank accepted the funding last year, the organization agreed to maintain specific paper records provided by the city that would be able to be inspected upon request.
“To say that this is a massive undertaking is an understatement especially given the magnitude of our disaster response and the conditions our people were working under,” Goodell wrote.
Goodell continued to write her senior staff and government relations committee are working with the city to find “common ground and a solution. “However, you should be aware the city is withholding $1.5 million dollars in CDBG funding for the food bank’s community kitchen which is so badly needed to provide prepared meals for particularly vulnerable people unable to make their own meals – elderly, young children outside of school, refugees, etc.)
The food bank’s leading executive says personnel began digitizing records shortly after Thanksgiving. Most food banks use paper records, “the standard,” Goodell said.
She said the food bank does aspire to be state-of-the-art and purchased software called Link2Feed that will record data throughout all locations in El Paso.
“The city has been incredibly committed, since day one of this crisis, to protect our people,” Nicole Ferrini, the city’s chief resiliency officer said. “We’ve done that by supporting the food bank, by supporting agencies that address the needs of the homeless.”
Goodell says the food bank distributed 139.7 million pounds of food, up from 132.5 million pounds the year before. The El Pasoans Fighting Hunger Food Bank is the fourth largest food bank in America, Goodell added.
The food bank is estimating to distribute 156 million pounds of food this year, Goodell said.
“We know we won’t stay at that level because the demand isn’t going to be there, at least, as long as there’s not a second wave or something else driving need in this community,” she said.
Ferrini said the city will continue to work with community partners to combat food needs in the community during and after the pandemic has subsided.
“We work with the food bank and other partners, including UTEP (the University of Texas at El Paso) to create a food security plan,” she said. “It’s an a lot more complicated issue than just how many pounds of food.”