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USDA Lets Contract Lapse With Controversial San Antonio Event And Wedding Planner

Paul Flahive | Texas Public Radio
The Farmers to Families Food Box Program h

A controversial $39 million  contract between the U.S. department of Agriculture and a San Antonio wedding planner has come to a close. 

The USDA opted not to extend a contract with Gregorio Palomino and his company CRE8AD8, pronounced Create a Date, though extended them for more than 180 other contractors. 

“These extensions are a testament to the great work done by these vendors in support of American agriculture and the American people,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on June 17.  

The USDA released the list of extended contracts Wednesday afternoon. CRE8AD8 was not listed on it nor on a list of new awardees. 

The agency was slammed by those inside the industry and some members of the U.S. Congress for the contract. CRE8AD8 had no license to buy produce, no trucks, and no experience when the contract was awarded. It passed over several food distribution companies with requisite assets and experience.

The company largely failed to deliver. According to the San Antonio Food Bank, the company only delivered about 22 truckloads of food. That was the amount of food it originally thought it would get per week.

Many of Texas’ 21 food banks received no food from the company. 

“We are thankful for the USDA reevaluating the vendors for the Farmers to Families Food Box Program,” said Libby Cambell, executive director of the West Texas Food Bank, which received no food from CRE8AD8 despite promises of deliveries.

“This program is so important to food banks who may not have resources to meet the increase in need we are experiencing,” she said.

The USDA stood up the program in a little more than a month. The program has the Trump Administration’s support, with Ivanka Trump at times doing interviews on behalf of it. It is seen as a success. It had delivered more than 27.5 million meals to families in need as of Wednesday, according to the USDA

It was set up to connect families in need with food distribution companies and farmers that had food intended for school cafeterias, restaurants and other places that were shut down.

“You may have seen the examples of milk farmers who were dumping in their fields,” said Tony Sarsam, CEO of Dallas-based Borden Dairy. “And this occurred where you had a glut of fresh food that could not get into the market”

Borden, which was awarded a contract for more than $140 million, was granted an extension. Sarsam in an interview with TPR in early June said it had taken longer to reengineer their supply chain and find enough nonprofit partners. Borden has been spoken of highly by food banks in the program.

The original contract period was through June 30. The extension runs from July 1 through Aug. 31.

|Related: USDA Extends Contracts For Some Companies But Advocates Still Want Change

It doesn’t appear the new contracts address issues raised by TPR around feeding rural areas. Large swaths of the Texas have seen few if any resources from Farmers to Families. Some food banks had hoped incentives would be offered to connect these areas with vendors. 

The USDA nor Palomino could be reached before publication.

Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org or on Twitter @paulflahive.

Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org and on Twitter at @paulflahive