Narberth food bank sanctioned, facing rent woes

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A Main Line food bank born in the Great Recession and bolstered over the years by community support has been ordered by the state to stop soliticing donations and is behind on rent in its borough-owned building.

The Narberth Community Food Bank was issued a cease-and-desist order by the Pennsylvania Department of State on March 23 for failing to be properly registered with the department’s Bureau of Corporations and Charitable Organizations.

Resident Gigi Tevlin-Moffat started the food bank in 2009 as a way to help neighbors in Narberth Borough and Lower Merion Township, wealthy communities where some residents were still hit hard by the recession.

The Inquirer reported in 2011 that Tevlin-Moffat held informal food drives starting in 2009, but began the process of filing the paperwork to form a nonprofit in 2011. The state, however, has no record of its ever being registered, Department of State spokeswoman Wanda Murren said Friday.

Tevlin-Moffat, who is now the vice president on the borough council, did not return requests for comment Friday.

The food bank was investigated this year because of a complaint, Murren said, without describing details of the complaint. After making contact twice with the organization, state officials issued the order, which prevents the food bank from soliciting any contributions until it is registered.

“All the food bank needs to do at this point is get their paperwork together and get their registration properly” filed, Murren said.

But separately, Narberth Borough served the food bank with a notice of default in early April, saying it was behind on rent in its borough-owned space on Sabine Avenue. The food bank was given 30 days to pay, said Borough Solicitor John Walko.

The notice was unrelated to the state investigation. Walko said the food bank organizers had told him their attorneys would contact the borough, but he has yet to hear from them.

“We would be willing to work with the food bank to maintain them as a tenant, assuming that they were able to fulfill all the terms of the lease,” he said.

If they do not pay the back rent, they could face eviction.

In the meantime, Mayor Tom Grady said he is concerned about families in the borough that rely on the food bank.

“I love the food bank,” Grady said. “I hope whatever happens, it’s able to continue in one shape or another. It’s a treasured asset for us.”

Grady said anyone with information relating to the food bank could contact the state office.

The food bank has not committed any food safety violations, said Shannon Powers, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture. In November, it entered into an agreement with that department to receive and distribute food from the state. The food bank has not violated that agreement, Powers said.

After hearing about hungry kids at a local elementary school, Tevlin-Moffat and other volunteers began to realize that even in their Main Line community, hunger was a problem. Donations came in from community members, organizations, and grocery stores.

“We’ve survived on the good spirits and the care of the community,” Tevlin-Moffat told The Inquirer in 2011.

Murren said the Department of State works with groups that are sanctioned.

“We realize these are very often organizations that are doing a lot of good in their communities, so we do work with them and help them come into compliance,” Murren said.

Correction: A previous headline on this story incorrectly said the food bank had been shuttered. 

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