Earth Fare cuts off Food Not Bombs from distribution list

by Eric Ginsburg

After three or four years of donating perishables and other goods to the Greensboro chapter of Food Not Bombs, Earth Fare has decided to cut off the small organization.

Food Not Bombs provides the only free dinner every Monday in Greensboro, on which a growing number of residents rely.

“I know from people I talked to on the streets how really, really important that Monday meal is to them,” said Liz Seymour, executive director of the Interactive Resource Center and former Food Not Bombs volunteer. “It’s probably the healthiest meal that they get all week.”

Food Not Bombs does not plan to passively accept the decision. After hearing about it, they quickly posted calls on Facebook and Greensboro Indymedia urging supporters to contact EarthFare and calling for a boycott of the company. They say their central concern is transparency about the decision.

“It took launching a boycott to get any of the information we’re getting now,” said Food Not Bombs participant Saralee Gallien. “This is a campaign for transparency.”

According to Earth Fare’s community relations coordinator Deana Moore, Food Not Bombs was notified on Feb. 1 that they would be terminating the relationship effective March 1.

“We never received any formal notification except for after [we contacted them],” said Eliza Wicks-Frank of Food Not Bombs.

Wicks-Frank asserts that during the first week of February, she was at the store for one of Food Not Bombs’ three weekly food pickups when an employee shared a rumor that the group was being cut off. She said they initiated formal contact with the company through its store liaison. After that, they were allegedly only given a week or two of donations before needing to look elsewhere. They say Earth Fare did not initiate contact until after Food Not Bombs called for a boycott.

Since that first week of February, Food Not Bombs members say they have struggled to receive accurate information about what was happening. They heard various rumors that someone at Earth Fare looked up the activist organization on the internet and didn’t like its politics or that they were seen as unreliable. According to Gallien, the leftover food they were picking up is now going to Triad Health Project and the Reidsville Outreach Center.

Citing a company policy not to work with the media, Moore provided only limited information in response to questions about its relationship with Food Not Bombs.

She said Earth Fare currently gives to three organizations but said they asked not to be named. Two of the organizations are new additions, she said, while they’ve had a long-standing relationship with the third. She confirmed that Food Not Bombs was replaced.

Contradicting Moore’s statement, representatives of both Greensboro Urban Ministry and Triad Health Project confirmed they have been receiving donations for years. Food bank office manager Val Marshall said Earth Fare has donated to Urban Ministry for the six years she’s worked there. Director of community involvement Kristina Singleton said Triad Health Project has received donations for at least two years. Someone at the Reidsville Outreach Center was unsure of how long they had received donations from Earth Fare.

Earth Fare previously supplied Food Not Bombs with all of the dairy and eggs they used and most of their grains, flour, and dried goods. Perishable donations dwindled recently.

“It prevents us from expanding…,” Gallien said. “We only get access to a lot of this food through donations.”

According to the Facebook call to action, Food Not Bombs is interested in expanding its operation to include a Saturday night meal to fill a current void. Food Not Bombs is not a formal nonprofit entity, operates without a budget and is run by a collective of volunteers.

Without a clear indication as to why Earth Fare will no longer donate to them, the members of Food Not Bombs are left guessing.

Gallien refuted the possible perception that the volunteer-run organization is unreliable, pointing out that they have worked with the central library for the last five years. She said at times they had difficulty figuring out the best contact person and felt that Earth Fare was disorganized, so they began asking for the manager on duty.

“I have been helping to bottom-line for Earth Fare [pickups] since the fall of 2009 and we have never missed a pickup without calling,” Gallien said. “Our history with Earth Fare has been one of compromise as their management has changed and our organization has changed.”