Saturday, January 22, 2011

Turmoil at Loaves & Fishes

Loaves & Fishes
Problems, centering on Loaves & Fishes' now-stinting and nutrition-lacking midday meal, have many upset at the homeless services nonprofit.

Many lower-level employees and homeless and recently-homeless volunteers at Loaves & Fishes are particularly peeved at oblivious upper-management in the Ivory Tower [a common name given to the second floor of a central building where administration has its offices]

Complaints have been met by hard-hearted responses from senior management.  It is felt that upper management is now wholly focused on Safe Ground issues and completion of the nonprofit's new multi-million dollar warehouse — that many see as a boondoggle — rather than important day-to-day matters.

Also, I am told that the warehouse, on the northwest corner of Ahern and N. C Sts., which is now about three-quarters completed, will cost out at much more than the $1.7 million price tag that was disseminated. I was given no specific final-cost estimate.

While the small, modern warehouse will have many creature comforts and features that will allow for conversion of its space for other uses, the need for the new building, with its huge expense, has not been explained. The sense is that an organization that seemed always to be far afield from the mission it gave itself is near-fully out of touch with it currently.

At its website, Loaves & Fishes describes its "philosophy," in part, thus:
Without passing judgment, and in a spirit of love and hospitality, Loaves & Fishes feeds the hungry and shelters the homeless. We provide an oasis of welcome, safety, and cleanliness for homeless men, women and children seeking survival services.
I was told by one person who works at the facility, when read that quote, that any "spirit of love and hospitality" is complete bullshit.

Complaints about the midday meal are multifold. Central is the general case that the nonprofit, which began as a soup kitchen, has wholly abandoned its core claim of always providing hot meals. At its website, its dining room is described thus [with the bold font in the first sentence duplicating what on the webpage]:
Loaves & Fishes Dining Room serves a full course, home-cooked, noontime meal for 600-800 homeless guests every day. Over 1000 volunteers including church groups, company employee groups, service clubs and individuals alike, help serve our guests the only meal many of them will have all day.

A separate dining room is available for women and children each morning for breakfast through the Loaves & Fishes Maryhouse Program. This meal is cooked and served by volunteers every day.
Loaves & Fishes regulars describe meals that are currently served as ungenerous in what portions are served and less nutritious (if that's possible) than they were in the past. Also, not infrequently, they are not hot. No one with savvy in the area of nutricion is involved in food preparation at the nonprofit.

It should be pointed out, too, that claims of serving 600-800 that are made at the website, and a claim of a 675-meal average by CEO Libby Fernandez, are contrary to statistics released by the organization which show that the average number of meals served each day has been consistently under 500.

[Also, as a matter of full disclosure, readers should be aware that I was 86ed from Loaves & Fishes within 24 hours after posting nutritional data on a sack lunch L&F passed out in lieu of a hot meal one Saturday.  Later I learned I was 86ed for putting up these two blogposts:  “Loaves & Fishes’ program of “Collective Punishment”“ and “Babies are gonna die! Babies are gonna die!“]

A second gripe by many is that those served late in the hour-and-a-half window of opportunity to get lunch get leftovers that have nothing to do with what was posted as the menu for the day and can be little more than a quickly-prepared simple sandwich. Commonly, late eaters get less food, nowadays. Recently, rather than a hamburger as the entree, those served late got just a cheese sandwich. There is also the complaint that things are falling apart in the dining room with much food that "tastes like crap."

When a homeless person who volunteers his time at the homeless-services nonprofit expressed his annoyance with the situation to senior management person, he was told, dismissively, "Well, you're getting something to eat, aren't you?" and that, anyway, you're taking food out of a homeless person's mouth. This oblivious senior management person seemed not to know that who she was talking to was a homeless person, who volunteered his time, and in order to do that to help out, it was necessary for him to eat late.

Conjecture is that Loaves & Fishes is trying to save money in areas that are centrally "homeless services" in order to cover the cost of a price-overrun luxury, the new fandangled warehouse. And the mission of helping the homeless gets further and further waylaid to empire building by an out-of-control bureaucracy.

Friendship Park to be closed on Jan 28 and Feb 2

In other L&F news, the homeless-services organization will be closing its park on the weekdays of Friday, January 28, and Wednesday, February 2.  The purported purpose is an attempt to ameliorate the long-standing water -- I mean, long-standing mud-wallow situation -- which occurs in the park after any rainfall.

Probably since its beginning, the circumstance of mud build-up in the badly conceived park has made being there an additional source of misery for homeless people.

I am told that the park grounds will be re-graded and more of the gravel-like substance that is already there will be put down, or they might try using a different, maybe-better gravel-like ground cover.

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