Mysterious moves at Fredericton food bank sap trust of supporters

A shakeup at Fredericton's main food bank has been so cloaked in secrecy some volunteers and donors worry about its future and others have stopped helping the charity, longtime supporters say.

Volunteers don’t know what’s next for Greener Village and worry clients will start to suffer

Since longtime director Elizabeth-Crawford Thurber was fired in June, volunteers at Greener Village say they've become increasingly concerned about the food bank and its clients because of a lack of transparency at the top. (CBC News)

A shakeup at Fredericton's main food bank has been so cloaked in secrecy some volunteers and donors worry about its future and others have stopped helping the charity, longtime supporters say.

Since the surprise firing of executive director Elizabeth Crawford-Thurber in June, volunteers at Greener Village say they have been kept in the dark — and not just about the reason Crawford-Thurber, whom they considered the driving force of the organization, was dismissed.

We're dead in the water.- Ronald Phillips, volunteer driver at Greener Village

Volunteers say they've also been told almost nothing by current management about its vision and plans for the food bank and related services.

"I don't have faith that it's going to continue to grow right now and serve the needs of people," said Clint Schile, who helped out at Greener Village for seven years, stocking shelves and preparing food hampers.

Schile stopped volunteering this summer because he disagreed with Crawford-Thurber's firing after she spent three decades building the reach and offerings of the operation.

Clint Schile volunteered at Greener Village for seven years but left after Crawford-Thurber was fired. (CBC News)

Despite inquiries from volunteers, the board of Greener Village, which now consists entirely of members of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, has not revealed why Crawford-Thurber was dismissed. 

Alex Boyd, who became interim executive director after Crawford-Thurber was banned from the property on the north side, has not been the energetic presence she was, some volunteers say, and generally keeps to himself in the office.

Volunteers have tried to get information from Boyd about recent changes but without success.

Volunteers left in the dark

Ronald Phillips, a volunteer driver for the Riverside Drive organization for the past five years, said things aren't what they used to be.

Crawford Thurber was with the food bank from the start and led its efforts to expand services, including its move to a bigger space on Riverside Drive about six years ago. (Elizabeth Crawford Thurber/Facebook)
"If the [interim director] can't reach out to the volunteers, who are the backbone of the operation … how can we expect him to go there and do his job as a fundraiser or inspire people to give?" Phillips said.

"We're dead in the water."

The organization relies on hundreds of volunteers, but Phillips isn't confident they'll stick around with the current morale and without better communication. 

"They are the new management, they have to try and sort out what has gone on and let the volunteers know because the food bank won't operate without volunteers," he said.

Boyd said in an interview that he wants to be as transparent as possible but can't share some information about the operation because of legal obligations.

Changes, however, are in the works and he's confident the volunteers' concerns will be addressed.

Church members have total control

Greener Village was founded by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Fredericton, but its board used to be made up 13 church and non-church members. Crawford-Thurber was also a member of the church.

In late 2016, Boyd said, board members decided to enforce a bylaw that was on the books, but was not being followed, stipulating all members of the board must also be members of the church.

The board is now made up of seven people who are church members, including six people from three families.

Alex Boyd, the interim executive director of Greener Village and president of the board of directors, says he expects things will settle down at the food bank, which continues to served 3,000 people in September. (CBC News )

The changes at the top have rattled volunteers like Schile and Phillips, but Boyd said things will get better.

"We do appreciate the concern that people have and that they want to make sure that things are run properly and we are making those adjustments to help alleviate those concerns," he said.  

"For certain people, it will take time for them to realize that nothing nefarious has happened and this isn't about church control or anything like that. This is just about the organization doing its good work."

We're going to keep doing the good work, and I believe in the community and I believe in Fredericton, and I know that Fredericton will support us.- Alex Boyd, interim executive director of Greener Village

In early 2016, Boyd said, a select committee made up of Greener Village's board of directors and other members of the church was set up to update the board composition bylaw with the help of legal counsel.

Boyd said he isn't sure when the update will be done, but he's hopeful the result will be more non-church members  on the board.

In the meantime, the organization plans to expand to help more people.

Boyd said Greener Village served more than 3,000 people in September alone.

"There's no indication to me that we're going to close down the doors," he said. 'We're going to keep doing the good work, and I believe in the community and I believe in Fredericton, and I know that Fredericton will support us."

But some donors have lost faith.

Some donors stop giving

Since the food bank started more than 30 years ago, it has formed hundreds of partnerships within Fredericton.

For more than a decade Brendan Doyle, owner of Read's Newsstand & Cafe in Fredericton, has been donating hundreds of dollars to Greener Village. He said he donates because he wants to give back to his community and because there are people in his store who use Greener Village.

Read's Newsstand & Cafe owner Brendan Doyle has donated to the Greener Village food bank for 17 years. He recently stopped because he didn't "have details on what they were doing." 1:10

But Doyle stopped donating money when he found out the organization operated differently from what he'd expected and replaced Crawford-Thurber without any explanation.

"I want to know that the organizations that I'm giving money to, they're run in a transparent, reasonable way," he said.

"Especially something like the food bank, where it's supporting the people in our community who have the least."

The only voice I had was my pocketbook.- Faye Edgar, former donor

Last year, the Canada Revenue Agency reported that Greener Village had more than $850,000 in donations and funding. More than $100,000 of that came from the New Brunswick government.

The organization also had close to $2 million in assets. Boyd said those assets would include the building itself, the  property and a reserve fund.   

Greener Village has a food budget of $270,000.

Other expenses include maintenance of the building, the operation of three delivery trucks, and pay for staff, which includes a new paid position and a new part-time position.

Every year Greener Village relies on donations from the community so the charity can continue providing food to local people who find themselves in need. (CBC News)

Some of Greener Village's money also went to a legal settlement with Crawford-Thurber and to work updating the bylaw. Boyd said he could not disclose the amounts.

Faye Edgar, who had donated to the food bank on a monthly basis since the early 90s, stopped after the recent shakeup.

"In some way, I had to have some forum to speak out that I was dissatisfied with what was happening," said Edgar, also a former volunteer.

She said she couldn't, in good conscience, continue donating.  

"The only voice I had was my pocketbook."