As the COVID-19 pandemic aggravated hunger in San Jose, nonprofit grocers said city guides reimbursed their costs for providing food to South Bay’s most vulnerable residents.
Non-profit executives say food demand has tripled since the pandemic, and businesses shut down in mid-March after Santa Clara County ordered its housing.
A local nonprofit said their agency had blasted the brunt of food requests, spending more than $ 1 million on meal provisioning since March. In February, the non-profit organization provided the needy with around 8,000 meals. The number of meals served rose to over 43,000 two months later.
The guide asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.
“The town was understandably mixed up,” said the nonprofit guide. “The phones started ringing for programs like Meals on Wheels, and other vendors immediately saw increased demand.”
However, according to the source, the city only reimbursed the charitable organization a little more than a third of its debts through a CDBG grant.
Although the city has now signed a contract with the nonprofit to cover about 60% of the costs through Aug. 31, the representative said many nonprofits have been banned from the contracts and will not be reimbursed.
“Many of the other nonprofits are much more at risk,” the source said. “So we heard people say, ‘Hey, we’re just facing the money because when people come to our doors we’re not going to turn anyone away from a meal. But we’re also crazy about paying the electricity bill at the end of the month. ‘”
The heads of state and government of Santa Clara Counties and San Jose decided that the city would coordinate the distribution of food for the county.
Several nonprofits reached out to the city to offer their assistance in providing meals, the representative said.
“I can’t say it covers 100% of the cost, but the best cost allowed by the Coronavirus Relief Fund and FEMA,” said Neal Rufino, co-head of the San’s food and necessities distribution branch Jose Emergency Operation Center.
In early March, the nonprofit agent announced that San Jose City Hall had authorized nonprofits to distribute meals across the country.
“At that time, we all had a verbal friendly agreement. We’ll find out how to go on,” the source said. But the city stopped signing the deal during the pandemic because the cost was too high.
The city asked the nonprofit to cut meal prices to $ 5 per meal, even though the usual per-meal cost for the nonprofit was more than $ 10. It costs more to make the meals as the nonprofit primarily supplies groceries to the elderly and infirm in the home country, the source said.
When nonprofits struggled to get back money already spent on meals, the city signed a $ 1.9 million contract with nonprofit food company Revolution Foods in early May.
“I’m frustrated, and so are other nonprofits, because the community-level organizations that were here before and during the pandemic aren’t getting paid,” the representative said. “So instead, the city decided to join a for-profit food company based in Oakland.”
Rufino said the city is working to improve its engagement with local nonprofits.
“We definitely heard the frustration. We met with the non-profit partners, ”said Rufino. “I am fully aware. We are aware of their frustrations and this challenge. We worked to address their frustration. “
He said the city has signed a contract with Revolution Foods to provide free and discounted lunch programs to families with children.
“The schools only offer special school meals Monday through Friday, but the hunger doesn’t stop on the weekends,” said Rufino.
Another challenge is that due to extensive documentation, it takes time to qualify for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s funds, Rufino said. The city is still unclear how funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Aid and Economic Security Act (CARES) will be used, he added.
“You don’t want a double dip,” he said. “I didn’t get that much clarity from the CARES Act, so the city is a little more cautious on this. We take responsibility for the fact that the contract development (with the nonprofits) and execution was slow.”
For its free food delivery programs, San Jose has partnered with nonprofits including Santa Clara County’s Catholic Charities, The Health Trust, Family Bread and Fish, Hunger at Home, Santa Clara County’s FIRST 5, and Team San Jose.
City guides aim to allocate at least 79% of city funding for meals during the pandemic to nonprofits by Aug. 31, Rufino said.
But local nonprofits say the need is urgent now and they are struggling to find sources of funding while contracting with the city.
Gisela Bushey, CEO of Loaves and Fishes, said her organization produced 85% more hot meals than before the pandemic and served 335,000 meals in Santa Clara County from March to June.
Loaves & Fishes received only $ 200,000 from the city from CDBG funds. The organization needs $ 750,000 in annual funding to continue serving meals during the pandemic.
“Of course, if you are unable to recover the costs through a contract process with the city or county, we would look to other sources of funding,” said Gisela Bushey, CEO of Loaves and Fishes. “The problem is that we are all in the same boat, so to speak, that we are all trying to use all the resources available to us, and that is a finite pie.”
Contact Mauricio La Plante at [email protected] or follow @mslaplantenews on Twitter.