Hartford Food Distribution Group Loses Fresh Produce Source

By , March 27, 2014 3:44 pm

Every Sunday for the past eight years, Hartford Food Not Bombs has received donations of produce from the Whole Foods in West Hartford Center. This is food that is suitable for human consumption, but often not aesthetically appealing enough to get top dollar from consumers. Instead of dumping it, the company has been generously gifting it to this grassroots organization, which has been serving it as part of the free, vegetarian meals distributed near the carousel in Bushnell Park on Sunday afternoons.

This month, that arrangement came to a halt.

On March 2, when volunteers arrived for the weekly pickup, they were told that Whole Foods would be changing how it donates food that would otherwise land in the dumpster. The organization tried to set up a meeting with the manager, but to date, the only discussion between these parties has been through email.

The grocery store is now working with Food Donation Connection to coordinate how and where it gives. Before, groups like Food Not Bombs were able to work directly with the corporation known for its high quality food. That relationship appears to have dissolved overnight, with the community organization having to work with a third party that says Food Not Bombs in its current state does not qualify as a charitable organization and is now unable to receive the food donations as it had been for almost a decade.

The Food Donation Connection, in an email, explains that “Whole Foods Corporate is currently taking advantage of the incremental tax savings that is available to them for donating their surplus food to qualified, non-profit organizations. By law, the IRS has specific documentation requirements that Agencies must possess in order for them to take the deduction. Unfortunately, a 501(C)(3) is one of the required documents needed for participation. Whole Foods has contracted with Food Donation Connection to ensure they are in compliance with Federal Tax Law.”

On its website, Whole Foods claims: “Our stores are not cookie cutter big box-type stores with directives from ‘corporate’ about how to run the business. Each of our stores has a lot of latitude in deciding the best way to operate that individual store to meet the needs of the local community.”

Brad Dietz, the Harvest Support Center Lead for the Food Donation Connection, told Food Not Bombs in an email exchange: “Until you obtain this nonprofit status, Whole Foods cannot legally continue to donate food to FNB. We understand your frustration, but we cannot ask WFM to put their entire food donation program across the country at risk.  The management at the West Hartford location is not in a position to change the decision.”

The philosophy of Food Not Bombs, an international organization founded in 1980, with its Hartford chapter in operation for the last eighteen years, is that anybody can shine attention on the issues of poverty and hunger. Anarchist principles explain the practice of helping when possible without asking officials first for permission to do so.

The timing of this change is less than optimal, says Dave Rozza, who has been involved with Hartford Food Not Bombs for the long haul. Until farmers’ markets begin operating for the season, there are not many options for the group to obtain quality produce. Although the Food Donation Connection has offered to help Food Not Bombs work toward obtaining 501c3 status — something the organization is not interested in — neither it nor Whole Foods has offered the group what it does want: fruits and vegetables, at least until the growing season begins locally.

While the group has some food that it can bring to the park on Sundays, the fresh fruits and vegetables are missed, especially the zucchini and mushrooms, Rozza said. This change is hard, he said, because those individuals partaking in free Sunday meals are often not getting very healthy meals otherwise.

Another unintended consequence of this change is that the local McKinney and Open Hearth shelters will not benefit from the surplus that Food Not Bombs had been donating to them. Rozza said the shelters were not dependent on them, but still, it’s something.

Rozza said that Food Not Bombs is not, at this point, aiming to restore its relationship with Whole Foods. After that eight-year relationship came to an abrupt close, the group needs to find a reliable source for produce that can be picked up on Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays. If you know of such a source, contact Hartford Food Not Bombs directly by sending an email to hartfordfnb@gmail.com

10 Responses to “Hartford Food Distribution Group Loses Fresh Produce Source”

  1. Tony C says:

    I thought FNB was under the Charter Oak umbrella as 501c3? Whole Foods is just another corporation pinching pennies without much consideration for the community.

    • daver says:

      @Tony: FNB is not under the umbrella of Charter Oak Cultural Center, nor is that a desirable outcome. They have though let FNB use their kitchen for many years and have been great supporters and allies.

  2. Elyse S says:

    Well put, Tony. Whole Foods is more concerned with how to make money on donations than helping those less fortunate. They’re hiding behind claims of illegally donating to a charity because of a lack of paperwork and a title. This is horribly sad- not unexpected from a corporation, but sad.

    • brendan says:

      There’s nothing illegal about wfm market donating food to fnb. It would illegal for them to take the write off for that food. The man from Food Donation Connection was misleading in his email.

  3. Hi Kerri and Real Hartford!

    My name is Mariana Evica, and I work for Urban Oaks Organic Farm in New Britain, CT. I find this to be an unfortunate turn of events in one regard, but it does open up a variety of new opportunities for Food Not Bombs.

    On behalf of our farm, I have contacted FNB to encourage them to be a recipient of similar materials from Urban Oaks and to see if any further partnership might be available.


  4. Chris Heneghan says:

    I find it troubling to think that if Whole Foods has factored loss into their profit margin, the company would find it necessary to seek a write off to account for that loss. No ethics in green capitalism.

    • daver says:

      I hear ya, but capitalists gonna capitalize…so no surprise there.

      The bigger outrage to me is that here is this organization (FDC) that claims to care about food waste and food insecurity but only so far as they can make a living off of it. Whereas, Food Not Bombs has been doing the same for free for over 30 years.

  5. Tom says:

    That’s unfortunate for FNB, and I hope they find new sources soon. But it’s hardly unethical or callous of Whole Foods to change the way it donates food. The same food will still get given away to people who need it, just through different channels. There’s an interesting debate to be had about whether forcing people to register for 501(c)(3) status in order to be eligible for tax-deductible donations has the effect of shutting out certain kinds of charities, or forcing them to make unpleasant choices. But I don’t blame Whole Foods for choosing to operate within the framework of current tax law. (Cutting FNB off like that was a little harsh, though.)

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