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Urban Exile: Food Gatherers’ CEO Eileen Spring Fights Hunger & Local Trend of Professional Entitlement

photo June 8th marked the 24th time Food Gatherers has put on its annual fundraiser Grillin’. It marked the first time A2Politico pitched in to help Food Gatherers. A2Politico provides free advertising to locally-owned businesses and non-profits, with the exception of non-profits associated with city or county government. Between April 25th and June 8th, the banner ad we provided to Food Gatherers was seen 108,000 times and 518 people clicked through to find out more about attending the event. Food Gatherers provided A2Politico a pair of free tickets to Grillin’ 2013, and we gave those away to a reader selected at random from among our registered users. According to Food Gatherers staffers at the event, this year’s numbers topped last year’s numbers, including number of attendees and amount raised.

Results recently released from a new national study on hunger in the United States reveal that Michigan ranks third in the United States in the percentage of its residents, including children, who face food insecurity. Food insecurity is living without consistent access to enough nutritious food to live a healthy life, according to the study. In our state, 1.8 million people wake up hungry, go to bed hungry and face the consequences of malnutrition. Those consequences can be severe. Several studies have shown that food insecurity affects cognitive development among young children. With respect to older children, school performance is adversely impacted. Additional research shows that with hunger comes more frequent sickness and higher healthcare costs.

Mississippi has the largest percentage of residents—some 19.9 percent of the state’s residents— who face “food insecurity, or hunger on a regular basis,” according to the study. When comparing number of residents Michigan, with its 1.8 million residents facing food insecurity, lags behind states with much larger overall populations such as Texas (4 million residents facing food insecurity), Florida (3.1 million residents facing food insecurity) and New York (2.6 million residents facing food insecurity). The study also includes an estimate of how much more money state residents (or the state) would need to spend in order to eliminate food insecurity. In Michigan, residents facing food insecurity and hunger would require an additional $702,000,000 to meet their food needs, according to the study, “Map the Meal Child Food Insecurity 2011.”

In our county, 1 in 7 adults and 1 in 6 children face food insecurity and hunger; that 16 percent of the county’s 72,000 children and 14 percent of the county’s 275,000 adults. Between July 2012 and June 8, 2013 the City of Ann Arbor gave Food Gatherers $71,964 spent $76,000 advertising in the Ann Arbor Observer, and gave Ann Arbor SPARK $1.2 million dollars from the city’s General Fund, according to the city’s online data catalog.

According to tax forms filed by the organization with the IRS, in 2011 Food Gatherers grossed $10.1 million dollars and spent $1.17 million on salaries. Eileen Spring (right), CEO was paid $86,203 in 2011. Revenue is up over previous years, but Spring’s compensation increased only 3 percent between 2010 and 2011. Compared to other local non-profits, Food Gatherers posts income and expense numbers that should inspire confidence in the community of volunteers, donors and supporters. Food Gatherers and Spring’s leadership stand out from among the city’s money-losing social services non-profits headed by CEOs and Presidents whose salaries volunteer board members (sometimes the same people serving on multiple boards) raise without rhyme or reason.

The money-losing Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce, on whose Board sit the community’s business mavens and leaders, grossed $894,210 in 2011 and spent $535,508 on salaries. Diane Keller, the Chamber’s President, was paid $97,000 in 2011. Over the past three years, the Chamber has lost over $362,000, and revenues have dropped by 20 percent, yet between 2010 and 2011 Keller’s pay jumped from $77,583 to $97,000. A2Politico documented a similar sad state of financial affairs at Recycle Ann Arbor, before CEO Melinda Uerling was thrown under the wheels of the recycling cart after the company had to come before City Council for a taxpayer bailout.

Hunger and homelessness in Washtenaw County continue to rise. Between 2011 and 2013, the number of chronically homeless people in the county doubled, despite local and county government agencies doling out millions of tax dollars to local non-profits whose stated missions include ending homelessness. On average each year, 3,000 to 4,000 individuals are homeless in Washtenaw County.

Grillin’ and Food Gatherers’s CEO Eileen Spring put on a picnic with a purpose, as the group’s marketing materials explained. Spring, as well as the Food Gatherers Board of Directors are local leaders in not only the fight against hunger, but also against the rarely questioned trend of local non-profit CEOs—particularly social services CEOs—who are compensated well beyond their accomplishments, and who are rarely held accountable for their failures by volunteer board members or unsuspecting donors. Local social service non-profits that spend the bulk of revenue on office space, salaries, travel, conferences and benefits as opposed to programs and services for vulnerable populations need to be subject to closer scrutiny by donors and politicos alike. Many social service non-profits in Washtenaw County are compensating CEOs and Executive Directors well above guidelines crafted by industry experts.

According to the 2012 CEO Compensation Study compiled by the Charity Navigator, Eileen Spring should be earning about $145,000 and Kenneth Fisher, CEO of the University of Michigan Musical Society, who was paid $231,000 last year, should be earning about the same (UMS grossed $7.8 million in revenues in 2011). As for Diane Keller at the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce her pay was closer to industry standards, according to research by GuideStar, the leading source of nonprofit information, when she earned $77,583 per year.

Alone, Food Gatherers provides enough food for more than 15,000 meals a day in Washtenaw County, or meals for approximately 30 percent of the 46,500 children and adults in the county who face food insecurity and hunger daily.

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