Funding intended for the Bayonne Food Bank remains in limbo.
The food bank has yet to receive a letter of no conflict of interest from the city, with months having passed since the Bayonne Community News first reported that the key funds were ensnared in red tape. The letter would allow the food bank to use $10,000 in private donations and $150,000 in Community Development Block Grant CARES Act (CDBG-CV) funds to purchase nonperishable food to distribute to residents.
City Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski co-founded the food bank with Business Administrator Melissa Mathews in 2020 amid the dire need for food assistance prompted in part by the COVID-19 pandemic. Ashe-Nadrowski and Mathews last told BCN in September that there was still no update on the letter.
Amid the holdup, a rift between Law Director Jay Coffey and Mathews became evident over the summer amid her gender discrimination lawsuit against the city in which he is named, and a secret audio recording involving Coffey talking about Mathews. Come July, it was announced the investigation into whether there is a conflict of interest was handed off to outside counsel, attorney Allan Roth of Ruderman and Roth. During the investigation, Roth declined to comment on the matter.
‘Handling it internally’
At a meeting of the Bayonne City Council in September, Coffey said the letter’s completion was imminent. And at the Dec. 15 meeting, Coffey told residents that the letter was finally done.
“I am in receipt of that letter,” Coffey said at the meeting. “It will be dealt with internally in the next week or so.”
The day after the council meeting, Mathews was optimistic that this time the letter was actually close to completion, but was weary of Coffey’s words and noted this isn’t the first time he said the letter was complete or nearing completion.
“Jay said in July at the council meeting that there would be a determination by the month’s end,” Mathews told BCN on Dec. 16. “At another meeting in September, it was said that they would have the results that night. Now, months later, it’s in-house and we will have a determination within the week. I am hopeful, but not optimistic on anything actually happening.”
However, as of Dec. 28, Mathews confirmed that she still hasn’t received the letter nor has been contacted in any way regarding it. That day, Coffey told BCN that: “We will be dealing with that administratively” and did not elaborate further.
Why the need for the letter?
Donations of money and food are essential for the food bank’s survival. But a nonprofit was needed in order to accept food donations from Table to Table and the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, the food sources for the Bayonne Food Bank.
When the food bank was first established in 2020, it accepted both food and monetary donations through the Bayonne Economic Opportunity Foundation (BEOF), a nonprofit, under the banner “Bayonne for Bayonne.” The money was then transferred to the city from the BEOF in order for the food bank to buy food.
However, the “hodge-podge” partnership formed during the early pandemic wasn’t a long-term solution. While the BEOF assisted with donations, it declined to operate the food bank full time.
As a more permanent fix, Mathews proposed using her personal nonprofit, The Mathews Foundation, to operate the food bank. The idea was that the foundation could accept around $10,000 in donations raised by Ashe-Nadrowski and Mathews to purchase and distribute food.
Because Mathews is a city employee, BEOF attorneys wanted to determine there was no conflict of interest. The BEOF lawyers have reviewed the matter, but Ashe-Nadrowski and Mathews are still waiting for a letter of no conflict of interest from city attorneys indicating that the city is okay with the money being transferred to The Mathews Foundation.
The $10,000 sits in a city account pending completion of the letter. Meanwhile, $150,000 in CDBG-CV funding for the food bank is also being held up due to absence of the letter.
The clock is still ticking
Without access to the donations, the food bank can’t use the federal funds. The Mathews foundation would front the money, buy the food, and then draw down, or be reimbursed by, the CDBG-CV funds.
There is a timeline for the city to spend those funds, before the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) forces the city to reallocate them for other causes. And the clock is ticking.
Meanwhile, without the funds, nonperishable food distributions and deliveries have ceased. What is currently distributed at 16th Street Park each week is perishable foods donated by Table to Table and the Community Food Bank of New Jersey.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.