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From Canyon To Cove: Accusations lead to rift between 'food groups'

November 23, 2011|By Cindy Frazier
  • A fresh delivery of fruits and vegetables arrive at the Laguna Beach Relief and Resource Center.
A fresh delivery of fruits and vegetables arrive at the… (DON LEACH, Coastline…)

You'd think that folks who care enough about needy people to work very hard to feed them would have charity to spare for each other.

Not always.

Take the case of Helping Hand Worldwide and the Laguna Relief and Resource Coalition, both based in Laguna Beach. Helping Hand has accused the Coalition of mishandling and misappropriating donated food, and of violating federal laws. Although local police and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cannot find any evidence of this, still the accusations are made.

It's a food fight: literally a fight over food.

And the groups used to be good friends.

Helping Hand founder Sita Helms claims that the Coalition violated a restriction in the U.S. Patriot Act that prohibits the group from sending food across U.S. borders. Pretty serious stuff.

But when I tried to verify that the U.S. Patriot Act in fact did not allow donated food to be sent to other countries, I got nothing but puzzlement from a spokeswoman for the USDA, which oversees federally funded food.

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If that was so, spokeswoman Julie Yee said, the U.S. government would itself be in violation of the Act, because the government has an entire agency, the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, devoted to sending food and other aid to foreign countries. So much for that allegation.

In September 2010, Helms wrote a letter to the Coalition outlining her complaints, and then sought to get the Laguna Beach Police Department to go after the Coalition for alleged illegal acts, but as Police Chief Paul Workman said a few weeks ago, "We could find no illegal activity."

The police turned the case over to the USDA, which according to Yee has not pursued the allegation that the Coalition illegally sent food to an orphanage in Mexico.

It's a sad way to end an association that began with friendship, according to Don Campbell, who works with the Coalition to feed local families, and also helps to feed orphans in Mexico through his church, Laguna Presbyterian.

Campbell said he and Helms used to work together, gathering food from area markets and distributing it locally through the Coalition. What they couldn't give away to families was sent to the Mexican orphanage that the church has adopted, all approved by the Coalition. However, due to Helms' complaints, Campbell says the church is now raising $1,200 each month to purchase supplies for the orphanage from a Costco in Ensenada.

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