New donated $ 200,000 for the food center; no one was fed
Nonprofit founder Nancy New gave restaurateur Jeff Good a check for $ 200,000 and then became a ghost.
The idea was for their organizations to come together to create a food recovery and recovery center. They would take food that grocery stores and restaurants didn’t want – what people think of as a bruised apple or a nasty carrot – and turned it into ready-to-eat meals for the hungry.
At the end of 2018, when they designed the concept, one of Good’s businesses, Soul City Hospitality, was already in the process of leasing and investing in an empty 16,000 square foot warehouse with this kind of project. on your mind.
And New, a Greenwood native who had a multi-million dollar state contract to spend federal welfare with virtually no accountability, had the money.
New is now awaiting trial in what authorities have called the largest embezzlement scheme in state history, and Good has nothing to show for the deal.
A recent independent audit by the Mississippi Department of Social Services called the $ 200,000 welfare payment to Soul City Hospitality a waste and abuse. This is only part of the $ 12.4 million in such expenses that they identified. Authorities have made no criminal allegations regarding the Soul City deal.
Good, owner of three Jackson restaurants, told the accounting firm that after New handed him the check in February 2019 to cover a one-year lease, “not a hammer was lifted.” His team no longer received any communication from New’s, Mississippi Community Education Center, a nonprofit. The nonprofit did not provide the necessary documents to obtain the permit, Good said. New did not place any personnel in the warehouse. Nothing happened during the rental period.
The building was not in service at the time and has not been since.
Good knew that New and John Davis, then director of the Mississippi Department of Social Services, had discussed funding for the project, according to an email. The department administers several federal grants. But Good told the forensic accountant he was unaware that the money Soul City received was from a federal program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families – known as welfare.
“The sap of energy was amazing,” Good said of the fallout. “Just imagine the punch in the stomach. ”
Good formed Soul City Hospitality LLC in 2014 alongside David Watkins Jr. – the son of developer Jackson who restored the King Edward Hotel and was a controversial player in the failed deal to revitalize Farish Street.
Their goal was to create better avenues for Mississippi farmers to get their produce to the commercial market.
Watkins couldn’t understand the Mississippi food systems paradox: why companies like Good’s Restaurant, located in an agricultural state, weren’t selling more local produce. Why a state known to have some of the richest soils also has one of the most hungry and the worst nutrition.
Good and his partners wanted to see if they could solve the puzzle, he said, “to really try to change the state’s economy.” His company secured a $ 3,000-per-month lease for the warehouse at the former Woodrow Wilson Farmers’ Market in Jackson, owned by the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
The food hub project received a grant of $ 100,000 from the USDA and a construction grant of $ 315,000 from the Delta Regional Authority. Good and its partners also contracted nearly $ 700,000 in private debt to renovate coolers, offices and production space, and in 2017, they opened the Up in Farms Food Hub.
The product company, which Good said had around 20 people, lasted for a season. It failed.
You name the problem, says Good, they’ve encountered it. Farmers could not harvest the supply they thought they could, due to time or lack of farm laborers. A lack of cold rooms meant the food was rotting. They were faced with worm infestations.
Down the supply chain, Good’s team struggled to sell the products to local grocery stores or restaurants, in part because of the inconsistency.
The group shut down the operation and shut down the facility in 2017, but maintained the $ 489 per month lease with UMMC.
Enter Nancy Nouveau.
The Up in Farms Food Hub “hadn’t worked well,” the latest audit report says, “and in the fall of 2018, MCEC approached them with a desire to lease warehouse space and to collaborate to achieve the objective of the MCEC ”.
The Mississippi Community Education Center had started receiving tens of millions of dollars in social assistance from the Mississippi Department of Human Services to run a state-sanctioned program called Families First for Mississippi.
Under the direction of the government of the day. Phil Bryant and his welfare director named Davis, several state agencies have started sending people in need – the homeless, those asking for food stamps, or looking for work – to Families. First.
But former employees told Mississippi Today that leaders of nonprofits have never provided the support, or in many cases the funding, necessary for the programs to be successful. Instead, millions of dollars of their grants were spent on imaginary projects led by famous or politically connected people, Mississippi Today found.
To begin the new food project, New and Watkins signed a sublease for $ 16,620 per month, which is 34 times what Soul City was paying for the lease with UMMC.
The parties agreed that the funds would be used to pay off debt Soul City incurred in the construction and to make further improvements to the facility, Good told Mississippi Today. Soul City would act as a facilitator. The New’s association was supposed to provide a project manager.
Partners also considered using the space for a small business incubator, workforce training programs and nutrition education. The team’s project pitch listed dozens of other state agencies and organizations as partners.
Listeners said they could not find any email from Davis about the Soul City project, but an email between the other private partners indicates that there was a “meeting with John Davis at MDHS,” where “Nancy and John threw up “fundraising ideas for the project.”
Soul City Hospitality also reported that the state had approved the $ 1 million government bond project, which it would not have to repay, which could be used for additional construction of the building.
Instead of making monthly payments on the Farmer’s Market property, New prepaid a one-year sublease.
“According to the interview conducted by Soul City representative Jeff Good, he was surprised when, after signing the contract, he was given the check for $ 200,000,” said the audit.
A memorandum of understanding drafted two months before the start of the lease shows that the original plan was for Families First to make a lump sum payment of $ 523,000 that would pay off Good’s business debt.
Good said that at the time an actual agreement between Soul City and the New nonprofit was signed, it was the monthly sublet discussed in the audit. The audit indicates that although the new nonprofit never took possession of the warehouse, Soul City did not reimburse the rental payment because the company incurred costs as a result of the leasing. ‘OK.
Shortly after signing the lease, New pulled out of the project to focus on opening a new Families First resource center inside the renovated old hotel that became the government office on State Street after that Davis had moved his executive office to a more upscale building in the heart of downtown).
The new office’s resource center claimed to be fighting hunger. It organized canning drives, raised funds to buy turkeys from veterans around Thanksgiving, and housed a pantry containing mostly green beans and canned corn.
In the center, New staff created a fake farmer’s market, next to a fake bank and a second-hand clothes closet designed to look like a store.
Several former employees told Mississippi Today that Families First based its programming – like these interactive displays mimicking the lives of the supposedly productive citizen – on principles and beliefs about the needs of people in poverty, not research. scientific or evidence-based models.
Up in Farms, a subsidiary of parent company Soul City Hospitality, helped stock Families First’s mini-market with fresh produce for the September 2019 ribbon cutting, which provided plenty of photo ops. But the food bins were mostly empty after that.
Up in Farms still has a certain presence in the food justice space. Last year, he received a donation of $ 75,000 from Dole Packaged Foods to run his farm-to-table training facility and provide 1,000 meals to those in need. He has teamed up to host mini farmer’s markets at the local Boys & Girls Club.
The Up In Farms website is down and has not been posted to Facebook since 2018.
WAPT reported in June that Good’s catering company Mangia Bene was partnering with Dole and the Boys & Girls Club of Central Mississippi, which also receives welfare payments directly from the state, “to launch the Up In Farms Food Hub “.
The report states that “the purpose of this proposed location at Woodrow Wilson is to collect all locally grown food, produce it and distribute it to people in need. ”