Growing Food Forward withdraws request for $10,000

Ryan Hoffman

Growing Food Forward withdrew its application for $10,000 — a significant amount of money based on the nonprofit’s income projections — in Garfield County grant money following executive director Kim Wille’s suspension over financial concerns from the organization’s board.

Wille was scheduled to appear before Garfield County commissioners April 6 to make the case for a $10,000 discretionary grant for new programming costs, according to the grant application.

The organization removed the request after Wille was suspended, said Timothy Stolley, Growing Food Forward treasurer.

Reached by phone, Wille said she had been legally advised not to comment and declined to answer questions.

Wille allegedly deposited grant checks into accounts not authorized by the board, and wrote checks to herself for cash, according to Facebook posts by Anita Sherman, Growing Food Forward vice president. The organization has asked the district attorney for a criminal investigation.

“We have too many unknowns at the moment for us to make the presentation with the county commissioners,” Stolley said.

The requested funding is a significant amount of money for Growing Food Forward, which relies on donations and grants as a registered 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable corporation.

The organization projected total revenue of $58,000 in 2014, according to its application for 501(c)(3) status. That same document projects increased revenue of $62,000 in 2015 and $70,000 in 2016.

While the current situation is a “setback at an unfortunate time of year,” Stolley said the group intends to move forward.

“We’re not going to shy away from seeking further funding from anybody,” he said. “It’s just we had to pause, take a breath, reorganize, get information together and … basically we had to start new, start fresh. And we’ve identified the projects that we know we can take on and complete with hopefully exceptional results, and those are the projects we’re going to be pushing to get funding for.”

Growing Food Forward recently received a $5,000 grant from LiveWell Garfield County to cover capital expenses for gardens and countywide workshops. The grant requires organizations to submit project budgets before being considered for funding, as well as biannual spending reports after the grant is awarded, said Dana Wood, Garfield County LiveWell director.

Since Growing Food Forward requested the $10,000 grant through the commissioners’ discretionary fund, it — like any other group that meets the requirements — could approach the county in the future, said county manager Andrew Gorgey.

While Stolley said the organization does plan on approaching the county for potential grant funding once it gets its “ducks in a row,” time could be an issue. Commissioners already approved $152,500 of the $250,000 budgeted for the discretionary fund in 2015 — leaving $97,500 for the remainder of the fiscal year, according to county documents.

Based on data from previous years, the commissioners typically refrain from spending all the money in the discretionary fund, Gorgey said.

Wille, acting as executive director, successfully requested a $10,000 grant from the county at the Nov. 3, 2014, commissioners meeting, where commissioners commended the work of Wille and Growing Food Forward.

The organization has strong affiliations in the Roaring Fork and Colorado river valleys. With volunteer help, it distributes non-GMO heirloom seeds, tends numerous gardens, and delivers food to clients, pantries and distribution points. It has seed libraries at the Garfield County libraries and offers a range of classes.

If Growing Food Forward does approach the county for grant money it would likely be a first, considering the circumstances, Gorgey said.

“With this specific example there are allegations and there are many ways that particular case could play out,” Gorgey said, adding that it is necessary to let the criminal process — to the extent there is one — run its course.

While the commissioners would ultimately make a decision, Gorgey said he “would not necessarily disqualify one organization because of one alleged bad actor.”

Growing Food Forward is still waiting for the district attorney office’s to provide its findings. Stolley said he does not believe the issue will have a long-lasting impact on the organization’s ability to raise money.

“I don’t believe there’s going to be a significant impact,” he said. “We’re prepared to answer any questions that anybody could ask about it.”

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