Guest Commentary: Food Fight at Expense of Food Insecure

By Nick Schroeder

Emily Hamann’s July 8, 2022 cover story in the Sacramento Business Journal about Yolo Food Bank (YFB), “Food Fight: How Tensions Over a New Environmental Law Led to the Ouster of Yolo Food Bank Leader Michael Bisch,” is a must read for anyone who has been following the sad and unfortunate drama at YFB over the past several weeks.

The story raises serious questions regarding (1) the Yolo County Board of Supervisors’ efforts to pressure the YFB Board, (2) possible conflicts of interests among YFB Board members, (3) the extent to which the YFB Board’s actions have been guided by personal interests rather than their fiduciary obligation to the food bank, and (4) the current YFB Board members’ ability to properly manage the food bank in light of claims that the Board violated its own bylaws and policies (including those related to conflicts of interest).

According to the article, the Board of Supervisors declined to comment on the story and the YFB Board–through their spokesman, Gene Endicott–declined to comment on the grounds of it being a personnel matter.

This is not just a personnel matter. The article tells a scandalous story of a group of elite members of our community (some elected, some not) using the food bank—an entity that serves the most vulnerable in our community—to advance their own interests.

Without comment from the County Board of Supervisors or the YFB Board, all we are left with is the repulsive story that has been told. The longer the story is left unchallenged by the implicated board members, the more it seems likely that the scandal is true.

There is a political process for voters to effect change on the Board of Supervisors; however, no such process exists for the YFB Board. Unfortunately, the YFB Board itself has the authority to effect change for the YFB Board.

Donors could stop making contributions to YFB in protest, the organization could face a financial abyss as it did under this board’s leadership before Michael Bisch, the people experiencing food insecurity in our community could become more vulnerable, and the same YFB Board members could remain in their position without consequence.

As it stands, the YFB Board is an exclusive club that seems to hold more common interests with the Board of Supervisors than the people the food bank serves. When their terms expire—assuming they adhere to their bylaws—the YFB Board elects people from their own social circles, perpetuating the issues raised in the article.

Although the YFB Board meets throughout the year, the “Annual Meeting” is where the board meets to discuss big picture issues and to elect new board members to fill vacant positions. The YFB Board had its Annual Meeting in May. On the agenda for the May 2022 meeting was to elect new board members from a diverse group of qualified community members who put their names forward as candidates to serve on the board.

Rather than consider the diverse candidates, YFB Board members put on display a lack of professionalism or interest in the food bank’s mission. They shouted down an executive team member who was reading a welcome statement to the candidates and abruptly motioned and voted to end the meeting. They signed off from the meeting without hearing from the candidates or giving their candidacy a vote.

In contrast, after the shock from the YFB Board members’ behavior wore off, the executive team members (including Michael Bisch) and the candidate board members stayed on the line and shared passionate stories of why they each believe so strongly in the food bank’s mission to end food insecurity in Yolo County.

This YFB Board needs to go. The board should be replaced with a diverse board that is much more representative of our county. There should be an open application process that actively solicits applications from all walks of life—especially from people who have experienced food insecurity at some point in their life and relied on a food bank.

That being said, based on their decisions and behaviors so far, I am not confident that this YFB Board will make the right decision. If they continue down the path they have set for themselves, I’m afraid that the story will become a tragedy for the most vulnerable members of our community.

Those most harmed by this whole situation, the people who rely on YFB to feed themselves and their families, deserve more than “no comment.”

The heartfelt people who work tirelessly for the food bank, both volunteers and staff, to get food on people’s tables deserve to hear more than “no comment.”

The generous people who have given money to the food bank, whether a large donation or a small donation, with the hope to help those less fortunate than themselves, deserve to hear more than “no comment.”

As taxpayers, we pay for the County’s food recovery program, support public benefit nonprofit corporations (like YFB) through special tax exemptions, and fund many of the grants received by YFB. We all deserve more than “no comment” from both the Board of Supervisors and the YFB Board.

Boards, stop hiding behind “personnel issues” and account for your role in this mess.

Nick Schroeder is a fiscal and policy analyst for the state. He serves on the Fred T. Korematsu Elementary School Site Council. He previously served on the Los Rios Community College District’s Citizen Bond Oversight Committee. His wife, Katie Schroeder resigned in protest from her position as Director of Accounting at Yolo Food Bank (YFB) following Michael Bisch’s termination from YFB.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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1 Comment

  1. Ron Oertel

    We all deserve more than “no comment” from both the Board of Supervisors and the YFB Board.

    I recall that the board already released a letter (which was published on the Vanguard), when they fired Bisch.  Employers never release more information than the type that was released in that letter.  (Probably because of legal reasons.) In addition, a lot of the board members have reportedly left, probably because they want no part of this mess.

    No “upside” in volunteering to be on the board, in this situation. (Just look at the tone of Mr. Schroeder’s letter above, if you doubt that.)

    And the Board of Supervisors did not fire him.

    I’m not buying this.  If you get yourself fired, the person who is responsible for that is generally staring at you in the mirror. An employer/employee relationship is not a democracy.

    That said, it does sound like a more open process is needed to select board members, going forward.

     

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