Food fight between smaller food pantries and Food Bank of the Rockies over donation distributions

Smaller pantries claim new deals are bad

DENVER — Some of our local, smaller food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens are feeling squeezed out. And they say the Food Bank of the Rockies is to blame.

It’s shaping up to be a food fight of sorts. Both sides say it's all in the name of feeding the hungry. They just can’t seem to agree on the best way to do that.

“Our clients that we serve have been harmed by this,” said Steve Budnack, volunteer director for Parker Task Force Food Bank.

Budnack is referring to new, recently signed contracts between the big grocery chains like King Soopers, Costco and Target and Food Bank of the Rockies.

Those contracts require all donated food to go through the central Food Bank of the Rockies warehouse, unless small pantries pay $100 a year to collect the food directly from their neighborhood grocers.

The Food Bank of the Rockies says it’s primarily about food safety.

“These grocery stores want to know that the food that's picked up is handled safely, that it's distributed to people who truly need it and that it's accounted for,” said Janie Gianotsis, spokeswoman for Food Bank of the Rockies.

Some smaller food banks say they don’t buy that.

“We found substantial inconsistencies where (Food Bank of the Rockies) would say one thing - and then in writing, it would be something different,” Budnack said.

Budnack said the new rules are cutting into their bottom line and impacting non-profit organizations in a negative way.

“I mean, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” Budnack said. “And we don’t even know how that food being taken from our neighborhood stores is being distributed. We’re not 100 percent sure. But, it’s not back to our community.”

"Could we somehow work out a situation where it's not all or nothing?” asked Susan Leonard, director of the Elizabeth Food Bank. “That this community can still use their neighborhood Wal-Mart to provide them with the extra food at their food bank even though they may not be part of Food Bank of the Rockies."

Leonard says these new contracts have negatively impacted their donations.

“We’ve made up for it over the last year, but it’s pinched us a little bit,” Leonard said.

“Is Food Bank of the Rockies a big, bad monopoly?” asked Denver7 reporter Russell Haythorn.

“We don’t see it that way. Really, what we do, is we bring organization to the process,” Gianotsis said. “And not everybody wants to follow the rules. They don’t always understand that we operate at a loss.”

“This is not a job for us, Russell,” Budnack said. “This is a passion.”

Budnack said he’s hoping the Food Bank of the Rockies will reconsider these new contracts.

“Absolutely,” Budnack said. “I think this is something they could step back and revisit. And approach in a different direction. And have substantially more success and a lot more goodwill.”

Others support the Food Bank of the Rockies decision.

“We’ve been very happy with Food Bank of the Rockies,” said Donald Cadwallader, director of Fish of Westminster Food Bank. “I would ask the people who are complaining about this: how much would it cost you to go and pick this stuff up and sort it and do all of the stuff that they do? We feel like it’s a real bargain.”

“I don’t really think what they’re doing is anything negative,” Leonard said. “But is it possible to look at the situation and say – ‘Ok, where does this maybe not work exactly right? And could we make exceptions in those situations?’”

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