Mesa food bank cuts off needy church in Florence

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

FLORENCE, Ariz. -- Thousands of people want what Art Varela has -- free food.

Each week the pantry manager hands out boxes of free food to the needy at the Florence Baptist Church Food Bank.

The church relied on United Food Bank in Mesa for more than half of its food.

That was until January when the church got a letter from the leaders at United Food Bank explaining their partnership was over.

Varela said the church was cut off because they pray with the needy before passing out food.

"We just spent 30 to 45 seconds to give thanks for the food we are giving out and they are receiving," Varela said.

Pastor Dave Storm said prayer was voluntary not necessary to receive free food.

A spokesperson from United Food Bank said over the phone that prayer wasn't the reason for pulling the plug.

Jayson Matthews with United Food Bank sent 3TV this statement via email:

"It is always disappointing to end a relationship, but there are times when partnerships are not working and must be dissolved.

In the Fall, United Food Bank was made aware of a number of allegations of unsafe food handling practices, preferential treatment of volunteers, and practices that intimidated clients. We investigated using 'secret shoppers' and site visits, verified these allegations, and made Florence Baptist Church Food Bank aware of the violations. Because of these violations and because this wasn't the first time Florence Baptist Church Food Bank was in violation of food bank safe food handling rules and operating procedures, we suspended our relationship. We then worked with them in November and December 2012 to take corrective action on the violations.
After a number of weeks, we quickly came to realize that Florence Baptist Church Food Bank and United Food Bank had two completely different philosophies on how to operate a food pantry. Instead of making Florence Baptist Church Food Bank comply with operating rules and safe food handling regulations set forth by Feeding America, USDA, and AZ Dept of Economic Security that all of our over 250 partners agencies must comply with in order to get Federally subsidized food, we decided that it would be best to allow them to continue their operations in a way they best see fit. We wish them all the best.

United Food Bank remains committed to feeding the hungry in Florence. We started a regular Mobile Food Pantry service on January 11, 2013 and will continue to operate one until we can establish a new partnership in the Florence area."

"United Food Bank has been in a number of times and inspected our premises and we've always had satisfactory remarks from them," Storm said. "Some of that I don't exactly know where it's coming from."

Storm also said Pinal County Environment Health gave the church an "E" or excellent rating.

The church is now looking for help elsewhere as Storm said they can't afford to feed the people of Florence every few days as they once did.

Since United Food Bank cut off the church, the pastor has spent nearly $15,000 out of the church’s budget on food and is asking for donations.
30 N. Willow St.
P.O. Box 298
Florence, Arizona 85132

United Food Bank is now sending a mobile food pantry to 231 N. Quartz St., Florence, every few weeks.

The future service dates are:

Friday, Feb 22
Friday, Mar 8
Friday, Mar 22

Each day from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m.