Part 1: Feeding the hungry...or feeding a source of income?
(Editors note: Last Thursday, Today in Fort Smith sent an FOIA request to the River Valley Regional Food Bank concerning their operation. But law, RVRFB has three business days to respond to our request, which was made through Facebook Messenger and the email function on their own website because we did not have their email address. We are making that request again tonight through the proper mail address and if they do no respond in the required three days will will be seeking legal recourse in the matter.)
The founder and director of a local food pantry says her organization has been battling resistance from a local regional food bank for the past two years and is now considering legal remedies after recent actions by at least one employee of that organization.
On Wednesday, Darla Lackey and Pay it Forward was given a copy of an email sent out to area nonprofit organizations by the River Valley Regional Food Bank saying if those nonprofits accept food from any other Emergency Food Operations they will "not be able to get CFAP assistance from RVRFB in the future."
You can see the email in question by clicking on the image on the right.
"We are a stand alone pantry and we have never been a part of the River Valley Food Bank because they have denied our application at least four times," said Darla Lackey. "We have dealt with lies, innuendos, harassment and slander from these people for the two years we have been in operation."
Lackey said that from the time she started Pay it Forward out of a tent in her front yard, there has been constant harassment from several individuals, including RVRFB Director Tracy Engel and Director of Agency and Volunteer Relations Morgan Osman.
"I am terribly saddened by the nature of this email. This email was a clear attempt to threaten nonprofits within our area and perhaps surrounding communities. It is unclear at this time how many of these emails that they sent out," said Lackey.
"But what is clear is that the email was threatening in nature as well as extremely untrue. For two years we have been slandered, harassed and mistreated by Ms. Engels and Ms. Osman," said Lackey.
Ironically, on June 23 of this year Pay it Forward Fort Smith received a "cease and desist" order from the attorney for RVRFB demanding that Lackey "refrain from making defamatory statements about RVRFB and its officers and employees" and referencing a June 29, 2019 Facebook post.
You can see that letter by clicking on the image on the left.
"So, essentially, they sent us a cease and desist letter because we were supposedly doing what they have actually been doing for the past twenty months?", said Lackey. "We are unsure what steps we will take next. We are thinking about filing a lawsuit for libel, slander and defamation. However, after speaking to several other organizations and nonprofits in the area we feel Ms. Engel and Ms. Osman have abused and overstepped their authority in this instance."
Lackey says the email in question stems from the announcement this week that Pay it Forward had been accepted as a partner with GoFresh and notified about a big load that will be dropped off at their North Tenth location.
"We reached out to several churches, nonprofits, the fire and police department, the Sebastian County Sheriff Office....anyone we could think of to share this blessing with," said Lackey. "Just last week, we delivered food to all even fire stations in Fort Smith."
"They (RVRFB) told Tammy Coney with the DHS that we were part of the RVRFB and brought up the regulations that govern federally approved food banks," said Lackey. "We are not a part of RVRFB and we are doing the exact same thing they (RVRFB) and another food pantry in town does on a regular basis with this giveaway tomorrow, so why were we targeted?"
Lackey said Coney told her on Wednesday that she had been given "untrue information" about PIFFS by the River Valley Regional Food bank.
"Ms. Coney told me on the phone today that she is unsure why they sent it. she had no knowledge they were sending it and she was concerned about the 'nature of the email', " Lackey said.
"Why hasn't Ms. Engel and Ms. Osman sent out this email when the other 'food bank' has a trailer drop off food that is distributed to the community", said Lackey. "This comes right behind PIFFS being reported to GoFresh for not having "adequate refrigeration" to handle the load. And we were told who "reported" us the day after we made the big announcement about our Thursday giveaway."
"They didn't know we were already working on securing refrigeration storage, and we have done so for any overflow we have remaining from our giveaway," said Lackey.
Lackey says the harassment and slander has been ongoing. She is currently gathering up information and preparing to get notarized statements from people who have heard and/or been a part of disparaging conversations about Pay it Forward.
At least one volunteer with PIFFS has been told that their access to the RVRFB would be cut off "if you work with them".
Two other individuals, who spoke to TIFS anonymously, said they have heard Engel make negative comments about Lackey and Pay it Forward, with one saying she is scared to go public with the info.
"They are powerful, monied and embedded with the 'right people' and I need my job," the source said. "Let's just say I have seen the behavior Darla claims about them with my own eyes."
"Absolutely no one should ever lie, threaten, cheat, or file false reports. This is a sad day for our nonprofit and we have fallen victim again to what seems to be a tirade of gossip and slander," said Lackey. " We here at Pay It Forward Fort Smith Food Pantry apparently hold ourselves to a higher standard, as do most other organizations and food pantries in our area. So many of us work so hard to make a difference in just one life."
"It would be nice for an organization to work with other organizations instead of trying to hinder their mission," said Lackey.