Metro-East News

East St. Louis Township food bank loses $300,000 in yearly funding

The Clyde Jordan Food Bank lost half its annual revenue Monday after an oversight board for a regional non-profit voted to switch a $300,000 grant that funds the operation to the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House.

The Clyde Jordan Food Bank, Inc., which feeds the elderly and needy through daily lunches, a Meals on Wheels program and a food pantry, shares a building at 6755 State St. with East St. Louis Township, which partially funds the food bank.

Township Supervisor Oliver Hamilton and board member Michael “Rump” Roberts both sit on the food bank’s board. Township administrator Yvette Johnson, who was convicted in 2006 of vote fraud, also kept the books for the food bank. Hamilton’s sister, June Hamilton-Dean, drew a paycheck from the food bank until early 2015. Hamilton-Dean is a financial consultant for the township, which pays her $3,300 a month. She also is an East St. Louis city councilwoman.

Joy Paeth, chief executive officer for AgeSmart Community Resources, said the group’s vote to transfer the public funds effective July 29 to Lessie Bates was not connected to a federal investigation of the township prompted by a recent investigative report in the BND.

The Clyde C. Jordan Food Bank Inc., the non-profit that runs the food bank, listed revenues of $603,936 with expenditures of $661,615, according to the non-profit’s 2015 tax returns. Neither Lucille Herron, the food bank’s president, nor the township officials could be reached for comment.

“It was a matter of capacity,” Paeth said as the reason for switch the funding. She defined “capacity” as the duty of the food bank to provide timely reports to AgeSmart.

The whole program was in jeopardy if this was allowed to go on.

AgeSmart board member Johnnie Anthony

Federal agents seized financial documents earlier this month after a BND article reported that Hamilton spent $84,970 on a township American Express card for purchases ranging from airline tickets to Las Vegas, more than $33,000 in construction supplies and $11,000 in gasoline. Two township board members said they were unaware that Hamilton was making large purchases with the card and did not approve them.

Hamilton has said any personal purchases were repaid to the township, although he did not provide proof except for an uncanceled personal check for one airline ticket for his wife who went to Las Vegas.

AgeSmart board member Johnnie Anthony said the Clyde Jordan Center has been on probation for nearly a year. As part of the grant process, Anthony said the food bank was required to produce monthly reports. Those reports were often delayed, causing AgeSmart’s reports to be delayed.

“The whole program was in jeopardy if this was allowed to go on,” Anthony said.

When asked whether the township’s recent financial history had anything to do with halting the grant, Anthony responded, “Well, the township was there.”

AgeSmart administers grants for food programs, such as food banks and Meals on Wheels, for seven counties. About 45 percent of East St. Louis’ population lives below the federal poverty level, according to U.S. Census data.

“There have been a number of problems with this location,” Anthony said.

Anthony confirmed Hamilton Dean was on the food bank’s payroll in early 2015, but that ended when the practice was questioned by AgeSmart.

The Seasoned Circle Cafe, operated by the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House, will begin new activity and lunch options for East St. Louis seniors on Aug. 1. The program will provide a variety of activities, meals, including breakfast and lunch and transportation. The Seasoned Circle Cafe is located at 1274 N. 37th St. in East St. Louis. For more information or to reserve a seat at the table or schedule a ride, call 618-271-2522.

The food bank’s board makes all the decisions regarding the hiring and firing of personnel, such as the executive director, servers and drivers, Anthony said.

Food bank Executive Officer Marion “Ed” Officer said the program had been on probation, but he didn’t expect to lose the grant.

“It was a surprise to me,” Officer said Monday afternoon.

It was Officer’s responsibility to submit the monthly reports.

“I understood that it was because some of those reports had come in late,” Officer said.

Asked whether AgeSmart’s decision to pull the grant had anything to do with East St. Louis Township, Officer responded, “You are asking me questions that I don’t have the answer and, quite frankly, I am glad I don’t have the answers to them.”

George Pawlaczyk: 618-239-2625, @gapawlaczyk

Beth Hundsdorfer: 618-239-2570, @bhundsdorfer