Our 2021 report (pdf)
As I reflect on 2021 and write this letter to you about our work and accomplishments during that year, the news broke on January 21, 2022 that the FBI alleges in search warrant affidavits that the state’s largest independent sponsor of federal meal programs submitted false reimbursement records. They conspired with business owners who stole and laundered funds as part of the “massive fraud” involving shell companies, kickbacks, and dozens of bank accounts.
This mammoth exploitation of the federally funded Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) during the COVID-19 pandemic, where almost none of the money was used to feed children, was unfathomable. We know CACFP as a long-standing program that provides nutritious food to needy children in sponsored after-school settings and in daycare centers and homes, which is faithfully administered by the Minnesota Department of Education. We at Hunger Impact Partners (HIP) were aware of the investigation during the year, an investigation that is ongoing. We are confident that justice will ultimately be served.
Putting aside potential fraud of such painful proportions is difficult. And yet, the last thing I want is for it to cast a shadow over the schools, community groups, established hunger-relief non-profits and government entities that bent over backwards to make sure hungry children were truly fed, despite the ongoing challenges of the pandemic. Their tireless and nimble work should in no way be diminished by allegations against these suspect players.
Since 2015, HIP has promoted, leveraged, and advocated for federally funded, state-administered child nutrition programs and policies, such as CACFP, School Breakfast, WIC, and Summer Meals. These feeding programs are critical to the health and well-being of poor Minnesota families. When schools and businesses shut down—or opened intermittently and unpredictably—our districts and communities stepped up in a huge way. We were both impressed with and honored to help them in their momentous efforts during 2021:
- Schools continued to provide meals through mass distribution at neighborhood and school sites for students and families, including using bus routes to drop off meals.
- Established, community-based organizations across the state set up weekly meal distribution programs.
- Food banks distributed meal boxes.
- Food shelves hosted food distributions locally.
- Backpack programs, such as Every Meal, extended meals to include family packs.
- Meals did, in fact, reach thousands of low-income children and families in need on a regular basis. And a few months into the 2021-22 school year, students appeared to be performing better academically and feeling better than they had in spring 2021. However, indicators of both academic performance and broader well-being were still well below pre-pandemic levels.
Those of us working in hunger-relief want to continue making the system work better for all we serve. We gained new insights through the crucible of the pandemic that we will apply and improve upon going forward. We believe that the creativity of schools and other established local partners, who understand what works best in practice, will remain the lynchpin in improving nutrition quality and access to federally funded meals.
As we emerged from the most daunting of challenges to our collective health and our state’s economy, HIP’s goal remains to make sure there is access to healthy food for every child in Minnesota who needs it. We strive for a system that will work even better for all those who rely on safeguards against hunger. The report illustrates our work to this end in 2021, along with policy priorities that we advocate and believe would strengthen the integrity and transparency of meal sponsors at the heart of CACFP.
I will close with my sincere thanks to all who join us in our effort to make sure Minnesota’s kids are only hungry to learn. I am most grateful to the teachers, administrators, nutrition staff, and volunteers on the frontlines, not to mention our many partners who provide the resources and support that make our work and theirs possible.
Chief Executive Office