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Appearing in The Washington Post, 2003

Food Bank May Quit District Program

By Valerie Strauss

The Washington region's largest nonprofit food and nutrition education organization will pull out of the District's summer program to feed hungry children in 2004 unless there are changes in the leadership of the D.C. agency that runs it, the group's president said.
Lynn Brantley, president and chief executive officer of the Capital Area Food Bank, said her organization would "find a way" to help feed children next summer outside the federally funded program.

She said she had lost faith in the D.C. State Education Office, headed by C. Vannessa Spinner, after a summer of difficulties with officials in the agency who "kept throwing up obstacles" to feeding children.

"The thing that is so powerful is when government and nonprofits can work together," Brantley said. "The State Education Office is missing that. And it hurts to have to make this decision."

Spinner said she was "surprised and perplexed" to learn of Brantley's decision.
" Ms. Brantley met with us, and I had assumed that any concerns had been discussed and addressed," Spinner said. "It will be unfortunate if they choose not to participate as sponsors. . . . We will make every effort to contact each site that they sponsored and try to support the building of a relationship with an alternate sponsor."

The food bank was brought into the summer feeding program in 2002, at the request of Christopher J. Martin, the mid-Atlantic regional administrator for the U.S. Agriculture Department's Food and Nutrition Service, to stem a decline in the number of D.C. children being served.

Martin said a pullout by the food bank would have "a big negative impact" on needy children unless the State Education Office can find a new sponsor. Anti-hunger advocates said that would be extremely difficult.

"There is no other organization in the District with the reach and capacity of the food bank," said Angela M. Jones, executive director of D.C. Action for Children.
The feeding program is aimed at ensuring that needy children eligible for free and reduced-price lunches during the school year continue to get meals during the summer.

In the past year, 42,210 D.C. schoolchildren qualified for the summer program.
Tony Bullock, spokesman for D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, said problems with the summer program this year stemmed from "burdensome" Agriculture Department regulations. But Brantley and others at the food bank said the real issue was how the State Education Office implemented the program.

Food bank officials complained that the education office staff did not provide sufficient technical assistance, sent out monitors to food sites who filled out grossly inaccurate reports, failed to maintain an accurate Web site telling the public where meals were available, and limited the number of sites the food bank could open.

A sign of the disarray in the State Education Office, said Reuben L. Gist, the food bank's director of advocacy, was that the food bank operated its more than 60 sites through the summer with only a "conditionally approved" application. It wasn't until Sept. 9, nearly two weeks after the feeding program was over, that the food bank received a letter saying its application had been fully approved, with a list of things it had to do, such as "use fluid milk."

The final straw, Brantley and Gist said, was a Sept. 22 mistake-filled letter from the State Education Office evaluating the food bank's effort. The letter told the food bank, for example, that it needed to create a system to monitor its meals, although it already has one that has been praised by the Agriculture Department.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company

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