February 21, 2013

Hatteras Island Meals suspends services,
has public meetings to address issues


This past Monday, Feb. 18, Hatteras Island Meals, Inc. hosted the first of a series of public meetings aimed at reorganizing and rebuilding the financially strapped organization.

Hatteras Island Meals is a local, volunteer-based, nonprofit organization that delivers hot meals, free of charge, to community members who need them.

Last month, the organization—which has had a presence on the island since it was founded by Betty Barnett in 1987—decided to suspend its operations for a period of 90 days.

“I had to make the decision,” said Dale Wheeler, the CEO of Hatteras Island Meals. “It was not something that I wanted to do...[but] contributions had failed and the finance plan had not been adopted yet.”

During the suspension period, Wheeler arranged for a series of four public meetings to take place at the Fessenden Center in Buxton, which would focus on the formation of an ad hoc committee that would specifically be tasked with addressing the organization’s current issues and finding a way to move forward.

“I’ve been wanting to put public participation into this organization for a long time,” Wheeler said on Monday. “This is a golden opportunity for that to happen.”

Around 15 or so concerned community members showed up to Monday’s meeting, which was intended to focus only on the structure and goals of the organization and on Wheeler’s proposal to create an ad hoc committee. 

Everything else, he said, would be addressed in future meetings.

The community members who were present—many of whom were affiliated with the organization in some capacity, either as vendors, drivers, or relatives of those receiving its services—quickly voiced a number of concerns and frustrations.

Ultimately most of the folks there seemed to want to know the same thing: How far in the red the organization is and how it has gotten there in the first place.

Rosa-Alice Mayo, of Hatteras—whose parents had been receiving meals until the hiatus—spoke up, saying, “What I want to know is, how did we get to this point? Somebody is keeping books somewhere, and somebody knew the money was gone, and yet, you continued to feed people.  Now, before we can even start figuring out how to feed people again, we have to pay these vendors all the money they are owed. Do we really have to wait until March 11 to address the current issues and figure out what’s going to be done about them?”

That, however, turned out to be information with which Wheeler was not particularly forthcoming. Instead, he insisted that the meetings stick to the scheduled topics for discussion.

Despite Wheeler’s apparent lack of transparency about the organization’s finances, there is seemingly nothing to hide. Its books, which are public record and are maintained by David Melton at East Carolina Bank, have been reviewed and deemed clear of fraud or corruption.

Ostensibly, the organization’s financial woes can be explained as a simple input-output imbalance—it costs more to run Hatteras Island Meals than what it brings in each month.

The organization is funded solely through grants, private contributions, and a $10,000 annual allotment from Dare County, which is distributed to the organization quarterly.  At the time the suspension started, Hatteras Island Meals was serving 41 islanders, delivering one meal a day, five days a week. 

Since each meal cost the organization around $6.25, including taxes, the monthly expenditures ended up being somewhere around $5,000. 

And, unfortunately, it does not take in nearly enough to cover that.

“For a period of about nine months,” Wheeler said, “we have been receiving donations [totaling] about $2,500—approximately half [our expenses]...our reserves have been eaten.”

Wheeler was unable to say officially how much the organization owes the vendors, and the financial advisor was not at the meeting. But, according to a resignation letter signed by all the restaurant owners who worked as vendors for Hatteras Island Meals, the organization owes them somewhere around $10,000, collectively.

In short, Hatteras Island Meals is broke, it is several thousand dollars in debt to its vendors, and it is crowdsourcing solutions from the island community.

On May 1, Wheeler will make a recommendation to the Board of Directors for Hatteras Island Meals regarding the future of the organization. None of those directors attended last Monday’s meeting. In the end, he will have to decide whether or not there is enough financial and community support for the organization to continue operating.

For anyone who wishes to attend the meetings or join the ad hoc committee, the meeting schedule is as follows. All meetings will take place at the Fessenden Center at 12:30.

Monday, Feb. 25:

The focus of this meeting will be the formation of the ad hoc committee and the designation of responsibilities.

Monday, March 11:
This meeting will center on a discussion of the current issues facing the organization and possible solutions.

Monday, March 18:
The focus of this meeting will be on the development of a financial strategy.

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