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A close look at Loaves & Fishes' recently released public-disclosure document

NOTE: The Form 990 referenced in this article can be viewed at the bottom of the Sacramento Press article "Why shouldn't Loaves & Fishes pay to shelter homeless rather than the cash-strapped county?"
Woe the dull, albeit necessary, title of this article! But in the mud of L&F's report of money movement in its operation in 2008 are points of interest to those interested in social policy in our fair metropolis of Greater Sacramento.

And, since Loaves & Fishes is the self-anointed Goliath aid-and-advocacy charity for the thousands trudging the streets in Homeless World Sac, its muscularity and weaknesses, efficiency and wastefulness, are of prime importance to any who feel for the least among us, the dispossessed.

And, if you have donated money, or your time as a volunteer, to L&F, or are thinking of doing so, it should matter to you greatly if the charity is getting much "bang for the buck" from the resources you've given it or might give to it.

Form 990

Form 990 provides the public with financial information about nonprofit organizations. Loaves & Fishes' Form 990, for calendar year 2008, was completed on May 13. It is posted, in two parts, as pdf documents immediately after the article here.

As reported earlier by me in a Sacramento Press piece, "Why shouldn't Loaves & Fishes pay to shelter homeless rather than the cash-strapped county?", L&F has amassed $1,549,155 [$1,154,672 in 2007 and $394,483 in 2008] of unspent funds in the last two years [See line 19 on the first page of the Part 1 of Form 990, below]. And, at the end of 2008, the organization had $2,286,282 [$513,124 + $1,774,470 - $1,312], in cash and other liquid assets [See line 1,2, & 4 on page 11 of Part 1 of Form 990, below]. That's a big pile that we would have to believe has been augmented in 2009 what with the Oprah-initiated media blitz that began in February. Loaves & Fishes' mission statement [at the top of the last page of Part II of Form 990, below], tells us that "feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless" is precisely what it is dedicated to do.

Interesting odds and ends

There is good reason, based on the Form 990, to believe that in most instances the Loaves & Fishes organization gets good "bang for the buck." Only one employee makes over $50,000:
James Peth, Board of Directors member and Friendship Park Director makes $61,067 when unspecified "other compensation" is included. [See page 7 in Part I] CEO and Board member Libby Fernandez, as is well known, is uncompensated as she is a Sister of Mercy and has taken a vow of poverty.

In matters of pay, Loaves & Fishes looks good, especially in comparison to Volunteers of America which is criticised for paying its national President/CEO over $300,000/year. L&F also looks mighty good in comparison to the local charity WEAVE, of similar size to L&F, but with seven employees being paid over $50,000/year and four of them being paid over $80,000/yr. [See WEAVE's Form 990, schedule A. Registration with GuideStar may be required.]

One particularly curious matter on L&F's Form is a program identified thus [on the last page of Part II]:
Volunteer Placement and Orientation (Brother Martin's Ministry) $289,453
Placement and orientation service that included a complete tour of the facilities 1 to 2 times a week for the public interested in volunteering at Sacramento Loaves & Fishes. A total of 750 people attended the weekly 10 A.M. Thursday orientations and 110 people attended the first Saturday orientations. 3,880 people throughout the Sacramento region volunteered their service to Sacramento Loaves & Fishes.
This "Volunteer Placement and Orientation" Program, uniquely, goes unmentioned at the Loaves & Fishes website page of its programs. Yet, with expenditures of $289,453 attributed to it, it ranks as the fifth most expensive thing that Loaves & Fishes does.

If you look at the description of the program, it is hard-to-impossible to fathom how so very much money can be spent accomplishing so very little. Apparently, for the benefit of 860 people [750 + 110] who went through orientation as volunteers, $289,453 was spent. That's $329 per person.

I wrote Sister Libby for an explanation of this program expenditure. She at first wrote [on May 28] that it is "the money that we save but need to calculate, by having volunteers instead of paying employees." But that cannot be, the amount is an element in the Form as a program expenditure and the Form does not show donations of people's time as a revenue source.

In a follow-up email, also on May 28, she wrote, "In the 08 Annual Report under Vol Placement (Brother Martin's Min) this total amount includes salaries for grounds keeping, day labor, employee taxes, medical, contributions to other non-profits, etc."

I've gotten no response to subsequent emails to Ms. Fernandez, asking if the "program" had really become a catch-all of general operational expenses of the facility. This would, of course, be a not-insignificant accounting irregularity, misrepresenting the activities of the organization to the public.

I wrote Board of Directors chairperson Karen Banker about the matter, but did not get a response.

Nutrition

In describing its "dining room" program [See page 2 in Part I], which served noon-time meals every day except Thanksgiving, in 2008, we are told the meals are "nutritionally balanced containing the appropriate amounts of proteins and vitamins."

At best this depiction of Loaves & Fishes meals is misleading. The meals have huge oversized portions and are heavily loaded with carbohydrates.

I wrote the following in my blog, Homeless Tom, in June 2008, referencing a meal that was then served very frequently, perhaps weekly, at L&F:

The cover story in the June 23 issue of Time reported on the unhealthy lunches served to children. A tray of food, pictured as a full two-page spread, and cited as "From Bad to a Whole Lot Worse" for children, was not dissimilar to what denizens of L&F might eat for lunch. The menu was nachos topped with cheese and beef; salsa; refried beans; mexican rice; peaches; two chocolate-chip cookies and a beverage of orange juice. The portions pictured were much less than what people eating at Loaves & Fishes see. Such a meal was cited in the magazine as junk food.
While there certainly are days eating Loaves & Fishes' meals when vegetables abound, they are not typical, and are usually accompanied by mamouth mounds of macaroni, cheese and beef.

More recently, last April, in one of my blogs, I suggested Loaves & Fishes change it's name to Buns & Weanies, due to the prevailing junkfood that was being served at that time.

Frankly, from first-hand knowledge, I know the claim that Loaves & Fishes serves nutitious food to be ludicrous. The organization doesn't accept government funds, which might result in a requirement that the food served be vastly more healthful. I am very certain that no one is now or has been trying to measure the protein or vitamin content of any of the organization's meals.

Indeed, when you include the mountain of sugar-topped sweets and pastries denizens of Friendship Park consume as breakfast, Loaves & Fishes is contributing to the ill-health of users of its services. Many homeless people get the majority of their calories from Loaves & Fishes and if they are not suffering now for it, many will be when they get older.

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