The Town of Sahuarita has ended its partnership with the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona’s Green Valley branch, and has pulled its funding for the rest of the fiscal year.
Sahuarita interim Town Manager A.C. Marriotti notified Community Food Bank CEO Michael McDonald on Wednesday that they are terminating their contract effective Dec. 31.
The reasons — a political contribution of $50,000 made by the Community Food Bank to help put a minimum wage increase on the City of Tucson ballot, and a decision to increase support for the Sahuarita Food Bank and its “substantial investments in our community to expand facilities and programs.”
“I understand if town leadership didn’t want to fund us for our commitments in Tucson,” McDonald said. “I respect it. It’s unfortunate. We will make it work. It’s not a huge financial loss, but it is a loss. The good thing is it’s not a loss to the community. We’re all still committed to food security, and people will still get served.”
McDonald said the letter was a surprise, and is the first time they have had a government pull back on a contract.
“I do respect people’s decisions and we don’t feel entitled,” he said. “I’m grateful the town said they will provide the funds to our partner agency so people still get served.”
Sahuarita has already paid the Green Valley food bank $9,000 of the $18,000 contracted for fiscal year 2022, which ends June 30. The remaining funds will be transferred to the Sahuarita Food Bank. SFB is legally separate from the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona though the agencies collaborate.
Fight for $15
McDonald said the $50,000 contribution is the largest contribution they’ve made to a ballot initiative, and that it’s not uncommon for them to be involved in advocacy efforts.
“We have done advocacy through the Feeding America network, often around SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and we’re asked to weigh in on what’s happening in Southern Arizona,” he said. “At the state level, we often partner with other members of the Arizona Food Bank Network, often around the state’s allocation for funding for hunger relief.”
The $50,000 contribution is allowed under the IRS tax code; the group can endorse policy campaigns but can’t endorse candidates.
The contribution was made in April and was part of the Fight for $15 movement in Tucson, a grassroots effort to “vote yes on Prop 206,” which seeks to raise the minimum wage in city limits to $15 by 2025.
McDonald said a number of local businesses, individuals and nonprofits participated, and that his board ultimately made the choice to make the donation.
“This past fiscal year the Community Food Bank provided our agency partners in our five-county service area over $2 million in grants that were approved by our board through our annual budgeting process,” he said. “One of those grants was to the fiscal sponsor agency for Tucson’s Fight for $15 aka Proposition 206 on the City of Tucson’s election ballot.”
McDonald said food insecurity is directly tied to economic insecurity and the minimum wage increase would help to decrease the number of people who do not have enough food.
“We support the campaign that developed and the food bank thought we should make financial commitment to get this on the ballot, which dozens of other communities have done. We can’t wait for Congress,” he said. “In the state, voters approved a minimum wage increase in 2016, but it’s not fast enough not for recovering low income households.
Oppose the donation
Marriotti said the issue — a higher minimum wage — that the contribution supported is not the reason they are ending the contract; it’s that the nonprofit made a political contribution at all.
“It can be any kind of political contribution,” he said. “We are dealing with politics and the country is split. It’s more that the nonprofits we’re doing business with, we don’t want any part of that. Our contract in the future will likely have a clause about this.”
Marriotti said they haven’t had a nonprofit partner make a political contribution like this before. He made the decision to cancel the contract after speaking with council members.
According to the town, the Green Valley food bank received $42,000 last year and in fiscal year 2020.
In 2019, it received $52,000, but this was prior to contracting with the SFB, who were not established as a nonprofit until 2018, to contribute money to them as well. SFB received $16,000 in 2020, $31,500 in 2021, and is contracted for $29,000 this year.
Marriotti said the allocations were determined by former Town Manager Kelly Udall.
“In years past, in Sahuarita we only did business with the Amado and Green Valley food banks,” he said. “The Sahuarita Food Bank has grown and has made a substantial investment in our community. The thing we like about the Sahuarita Food Bank is they are offering more services — they are now offering resources for job training and with the new facilities they will have other types of programs.”
Marriotti said there’s overlapping services, and people from Sahuarita can go to the Green Valley food bank, and vice-versa.
McDonald said often, a client may not go to the food bank location in their backyard, but will opt instead for what is best for their schedules.
“A lot of human services have a porous boundary and are part of a larger network safety net, so we are all linked into the same database,” he said. “What we’ve found is depending on where they live and work — they may live near the community food bank’s largest location but perhaps they work closer to another easier to access agency partner. The food bank they use is not necessarily the one in their backyard.”
He said 21% of the households picking up food at the Green Valley Resource Center have a Sahuarita address.
The Community Food Bank supports the SFB with food and technical support.
McDonald said they contributed $150,000 to the construction of Sahuarita Food Bank’s 14,000-square-foot facility, which opens early next year.
Ultimately, McDonald said the Green Valley food bank will continue to serve residents of Sahuarita and Green Valley, as well as any others who may need them. They will make it work and generous donors help make it possible.
He said he is grateful to the partnership they had with the Town of Sahuarita.
“Poverty has been persistent in Southern Arizona and this is why we are looking beyond handing out food,” he said. “We are looking at our commitment to address the root causes of food insecurity.”