June 26, 2008

Loaves as the Recession Deepens

Sister Libby Fernandez
Photo © 2007 Peter S. Lopez

I spoke for about twenty minutes today with Sister Libby Fernandez, the Executive Director of Loaves & Fishes. Ostensively, our conversation centered on the organization's Form 990 filing for 2007, but quickly we were into other topics, including the deepening recession and the healthfulness of the daily lunches L&F serves to an average of over 700 people.

I will attempt a comprehensive, albeit amateur, analysis of the 990 in the near future. Form 990 is a report on the financials and activities of a non-profit organization. For now, I'll hit on some of the conspicuous highlights from the form and post on the other discussed topics.

Loaves should be lauded for the efficiency of its fundraising operation, which does its job using just 4.4% of funds raised during the year. That is stellar, an extraordinarily low percentage -- far, far below the 35% cap set by institutions that monitor non-profit organizations. AND, based on the types of expenditures the Fundraising Department had in 2007, most of their effort was very directly funneled toward getting out news of the needs of homeless people to possible donors.

On a more-minor topic, there is an indication that Loaves did not get a good return on its cash and temporary investments in 2007. Their overall rate of return may have been as low as 2.5%, due, perhaps in significant part, to a policy of leaving large sums uninvested. [At the beginning of 2007, L&F had >$600,000 in cash that was not earning interest; at the end of the year the amount was nearly $750,000. From earlier Forms 990, found at Guidestar.org, I learn that L&F had $550,694 in non-interest-earning cash at the beginning of 2006 and $1,277,235 in non-interest-earning cash at the beginning of 2005.] The organization may have failed to reap an easy extra $10,000+ in interest by failing in the chore of simple cash management.

Because California is in a quickly deepening recession, it is fortunate that Loaves & Fishes has reserves in excess of five million dollars, enough, by itself, to cover a year of its activities at the current rate of needed services. These reserves will be a God's send in the tough economic times ahead as donations become more difficult to gather and the needy population in greater Sacramento grows. Chunks of those reserves are, however, reserved for other purposes, including the purchase of a warehouse.

Sister Libby told me that donors have been sending in smaller checks in the last month and that the organization must brace itself for tough times. The Christmas season is primetime for receipt of donations, but it is sure to be difficult to inspire people to give if economic indicators are correct that signal more- employment, -mortgage-payment and yet higher gas-price problems.

A subject of interest to me is the healthfulness of food the organization serves in its Friendship Park in the morning and as lunch in its dining rooms.

The cover story in the June 23 issue of Time reported on the unhealthy lunches served to children. A tray of food, pictured as a full two-page spread, and cited as "From Bad to a Whole Lot Worse" for children, was not dissimilar to what denizens of L&F might eat for lunch. The menu was nachos topped with cheese and beef; salsa; refried beans; mexican rice; peaches; two chocolate-chip cookies and a beverage of orange juice. The portions pictured were much less than what people eating at Loaves & Fishes see. Such a meal was cited in the magazine as junk food.

Far better was a tray of food that Time pictured and captioned as "Lunch Like it Could Be." For this meal, the menu was a turkey wrap; grapes; vegetable soup; carrots and dip; and strawberries, with lowfat milk as the beverage.

While meals for kids is not the same as what adults should eat, what the two groups should and should not eat is very similar. Another article in Time, "Dr. Andrew Weil's Wellness Diet," offers some specific direction of what an adult's diet should include and exclude. Also, the USDA's Food Pyramid is a great guide for learning about what a person should eat. Here, two of the USDA's charts of how many servings of vegetables (and in which subgroups) people should consume.

Sister Libby brought up a possible fix to the vegetable-servings shortage: Gleaning fields something in the manner that the defunct Sacramento-area group Senior Gleaners had done to rescue fresh vegetables from local fields (or grocery stores?) that are edible yet not perfect enough for choosy shoppers. Actually, Sister Libby suggested that *I* look into the matter, and I will. Possibly, Senior Gleaners' methods were efficient such that vegetables from the thriving Central Valley -- where we live! -- can be delivered for preparation and consumption by the poor and homeless in L&F dining rooms.

There are many challenges on her to-do list, Sister Libby told me. County budget cuts threaten healthcare services for the poor and a suit against the local police department to compensate homeless folks for their confiscated belongings is slowly moving forward in the courts. A similar court case recently succeeded at compensating Fresno-area homeless people for their confiscated property, Sister Libby told me. There is also the threat that budget cuts will keep the Winter Shelter at CalExpo from opening late this year, leaving a great many homeless Sacramentans in the street during the year's coldest months.

We also discussed the bounty of pastries, cookies, cakes and pies that are given to people in Friendship Park weekday mornings. The food is good, but past fresh, donated by local grocery chains and bakeries.

I believe these sweets are a threat to the health of the homeless. Some people are gorging themselves, consuming large numbers of servings of the worst kind of junk food, larding themselves with fat and sugar every day.

There are people whom I could name whose lives have devolved into ones of sleeping fifteen hours a day and eating (and, perhaps, drinking) the rest of the time. Theirs is a slow path to suicide. The organization Loaves & Fishes may have an obligation to instruct people on how to eat healthfully, given the limited sources the poor have to keep themselves fed.

I don't know that Sister Libby disagrees with what is written in the prior two paragraphs, but she did seem more libertarian in her views than me, believing that L&F strives mightily with its role to make what food it can find available to the homeless. It is not L&F's role to rule people's lives.

1 comment:

Buddhist_philosopher said...

Excellent post, Tom. I think you are right that agencies should work very hard to educate those they serve on healthy eating (and to actually serve healthy foods). Heavily processed foods, high fructose corn syrup, and chemicals can often fill us up but leave us physically and emotionally drained. Poor diet and alcohol abuse are sure to lead to decline in the lives of those who need sobriety (or at least moderation) and healthful food the most. Keep on them to improve things... perhaps they could solicit funds especially for a healthy food initiative...