Jul 21, 2022 - News

Des Moines food rescue group says United Way unfairly pulled $50k in funding

Members of Eat Great Des Moines rescuing food

Eat Greater Des Moines staff pack a truck with rescued food. Photo courtesy of Eat Greater Des Moines

A local food rescue group says its lost up to $50,000 in funding that its regularly received from United Way of Central Iowa.

  • Eat Greater Des Moines told Axios the funding loss stems from a letter about leftover meals that went to waste at an event at Prairie Meadows.

Why it matters: The conflict shows how smaller nonprofits in Des Moines are beholden to larger groups like United Way, Aubrey Alvarez, the executive director of EGDM said.

  • United Way says it severed ties because of the behavior of some EGDM staff on previous occasions.

State of play: On May 9, United Way of Central Iowa held its annual "Live United" event at Prairie Meadows.

  • Alvarez, who was an attendee, said she wanted to "rescue" at least 80 leftover meals that would have ended up in the trash, and give them to Urban Dreams, a local non-profit that helps at-risk youth.

Yes, but: Alvarez said Prairie Meadows banquet staff told her she could not take the meals due to concerns about food safety. But Alvarez said they were within the safe range.

  • After packing up the food in containers and still being refused, she sent a letter regarding the incident on May 13 to EGDM supporters, without referencing specifics.
  • But following the letter, "retribution was swift," Alvarez said. "This just feels like a very drastic response to what could have been a learning situation."

On July 8, she received a letter from Renee Miller of United Way saying they have declined to fund EGDM this year without providing details.

  • Alvarez contends that United Way declined to fund her group because of the May 13 letter about the incident at Prairie Meadows.

What they're saying: Alvarez said she's speaking out because she doesn't want other nonprofits to have to pick between their "values" and not making "United Way's donors mad."

  • United Way is one of the biggest benefactors from Prairie Meadows, garnering millions in grants over the last decade.

The other side: The decision was made after multiple experiences with EGDM staff that didn't align with United Way's "inclusive, respect-based work," according to a statement the organization sent to Axios that it declined to attribute to a specific person.

  • The statement said United Way staff tried to express their concerns with EGDM "over the years."
  • "Decisions like these are difficult, but they are made only after exhausting every other alternative, through many stages of discussion and consideration," according to the statement.

Of note: A spokesperson from Prairie Meadows told Axios they did not bring up any concerns with EGDM to United Way.

What's next: Eat Greater Des Moines is undergoing a fundraising campaign


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