Health report prompts concerns

Food bank leaders: Rodent problem being addressed

CHIMACUM — A Jefferson County Public Health inspection of the Tri-Area Food Bank found multiple violations, including a “severe” rodent infestation and food storage issues, which food bank officials say are being addressed.

The May 15 report found moldy food, refrigerators running above required temperatures and a rodent infestation in the warehouse area known as “the barn.”

“Severe rodent infestation observed in warehouse ‘barn’,” the report said. “All contaminated foods are labeled for voluntary discard. Olympic Disposal will be contacted for pickup.”

The report notes that pest control services have been visiting every two weeks and a contractor will seal the warehouse perimeter by today.

The report also noted moldy fruit and food in the food bank’s refrigerator was between 44-45 degrees Fahrenheit, above the 41-degree requirement.

A follow-up inspection is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Tuesday.

If the violations haven’t been fixed by that time, the health department and the food bank will agree on a timeline for compliance moving forward, said Hal-Wayne Woodward, the environmental specialist with Jefferson County Public Health, who wrote the report.

“It depends on what we see,” Woodward said. “It might come down to ‘assigning homework,’ you could call it, to make sure corrections are being made.”

Woodward said it is possible for any food establishment to be shut down if violations are severe enough.

Jefferson County Food Bank Association Executive Director Patricia Hennessey said the rodent infestation has been an issue for several months and that the food bank has been proactive about contacting pest control and addressing it.

“None of the food that we distribute to clients has been impacted by this,” Hennessey said. “We’ve done everything the (health department) said. The food we distribute was in no way impacted. The food we give out is absolutely safe.”

Hennessey said the rodent problem was located in the food bank’s storage warehouse and that all food has since been stored in the main food bank building.

The moldy fruit that was found was the result of food banks getting most of their food second-hand from local retailers, Hennessey said. Often, it has to be discarded for not meeting health standards, she said.

Increased temperatures in the refrigeration unit were caused by doors to the unit being left open during operating hours on a warm day, Hennessey said. She added steps are being taken to address the issue.

Leadership changes

News of the health department report has been promoted by several former volunteers who left the food bank and who accuse the JCFBA’s leadership of mismanaging the organization.

The Jefferson County Food Bank Association — the non-profit organization that runs the food banks in Port Townsend, Brinnon, the Tri-Area and Quilcene — changed leadership over the past several months with several longtime members of the Board of Directors leaving and the first-time hiring of a paid executive director.

But that change has caused significant tension with several longtime volunteers, many of whom have since left the organization.

In April, several longtime volunteer managers at the Quilcene and Tri-Area food banks left the organization with those volunteers claiming they were forced out and board members claiming they left willingly.

On Monday, former volunteers and one food bank client gave public comment to the Board of Jefferson County Commissioners, expressing their concerns about how JCFBA is being run.

“We’re concerned today about food issues around food safety, around having enough food for our community and around volunteer retention and the happiness of the volunteers who are currently serving,” said Penny Condoll, a former volunteer at the Tri-Area Food Bank for four years.

Condoll said she and former Tri-Area Food Bank volunteer manager John Laird sent letters voicing their concerns to JCFBA’s Board of Directors and heard no response. They also met with state Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Port Townsend, who suggested reaching out to news outlets.

Condoll said she and Laird receive frequent text messages from current volunteers expressing concern about how the food banks are being managed.

Heidi Holburg said she recently visited the Tri-Area Food Bank as a client and claimed she was treated rudely and that food supplies were low.

“For the first time that I can remember, I was treated like a second-class citizen and I was begging for handouts,” Holburg said. “There was no food. There were no potatoes, no bread, not one loaf of bread; there was very little meat.”

Commissioners said they would look into the issue, but they noted the county has no direct oversight of JCFBA, a private organization.

District 2 Commissioner Heidi Eisenhour said she would take the lead on the issue and is planning to attend a future JCFBA board meeting.

“I’m just trying to get down to the bottom of what the facts are,” Eisenhour said. “This is an extremely critical issue in our community, a valued resource. Any way that we can assist in getting the ship righted, we will. It takes time to get the ship moving in the right direction.”

Hennessey attributed the discord to a small faction of former volunteers who are upset with the changes that have been implemented by the new leadership. She is the first executive director JCFBA has ever had, and changes have been made with the goal of improving the organization.

Many of the issues JCFBA is facing, including the rodent problem, predate Hennessey’s tenure, she said.

The number of people using the food banks has increased significantly in the first quarter of 2024, Hennessey said, rising from an average of 2,600 households per month to 3,200, and she added that JCFBA has been able to meet that need.

“Our job is to help support 3,200 households in Jefferson County, and we have done that successfully,” Hennessey said. “In the first quarter, that number has jumped by 600. If we’re able to meet that need, certainly the leadership team, including myself, is doing something right.”

One former volunteer has contacted the IRS about conducting an audit of the organization, but Hennessey said JCFBA is in the final stages of hiring its own auditing agency to conduct what’s known as a forensic audit, going through years of JCFBA financial records.

“I’m really sorry that people are upset by the change that’s been brought about, but we can’t just meet this need, we need to get ahead of it,” Hennessey said.

________

Reporter Peter Segall can be reached by email at peter.segall@peninsuladailynews.com.

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