With aerial shots of thousands in line to pick up food at the San Antonio Food Bank making the national news, the food bank still has not received relief from one of the USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box program’s biggest winners.
CRE8AD8 (pronounced Create A Date), a San Antonio-based wedding and event planner, has come under fire from local and national news for winning a contract to supply $39 million in produce, meat, and dairy to charitable organizations like the food bank, with no experience or infrastructure to do so.
The Farmers to Families Food Box program awarded $1.2 billion to nearly 200 companies across the U.S. to deliver US-grown and produced fresh produce, dairy and meat to charitable organizations in early May, with deliveries expected from May 15 to June 30.
The business, and its owner Gregorio Palomino, was investigated by the San Antonio Express-News and found to have unsubstantiated claims about clients and professional credentials.
Industry organizations such as the United Fresh Produce Association and the Produce Marketing Association have sent letters to the USDA requesting information on the contract awards and offering assistance in the vendor vetting process. The House Ag Committee also has sent a letter to the USDA about the contracts.
And now two San Antonio-based congressmen are asking for investigations, and for CRE8AD8’s contract to be cancelled entirely. U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-San Antonio) sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue requesting the cancellation.
“San Antonio families cannot eat an IOU,” Doggett said. “USDA needs to cancel CRE8AD8’s contract and we need a full accounting of how the Administration so direly mishandled a necessary and widely-supported program, to the detriment of the most vulnerable.”
U.S. Representative Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) also called for an investigation into the contract, calling it “suspicious” given CRE8AD8’s lack of qualifications, including a PACA license (which the company acquired after winning the contract).
The USDA has defended its selections in the process, promising a rigorous auditing process, though it has terminated one of the larger contracts, $40 million awarded to California avocado grower Ben Holtz.
Criticism of USDA’s contract with CRE8AD8 is widespread, but the company appears to be moving forward on its promise to deliver 750,000 boxes by the end of June.
It has created a separate website, www.cre8ameal.com, and social media for the program, called Operation Cre8ameal, where it says “the first trucks will be heading out at the end of this week, and we are so excited to help the community.”
A representative for CRE8AD8 could not be reached for comment.