BILLINGS — An online petition is calling for the removal of the director of the Billings Food Bank, accusing her of multiple incidents of misconduct, including hostile and inappropriate interactions and handing out rotten food to clients.
The petition on Change.org has more than 600 signatures to remove Director Sheryle Shandy, with more than half coming from Wednesday alone. While Shandy's bosses, the food bank's board of directors, are not required to act on the petition, its backer says she wanted to raise awareness of problems she sees at the nonprofit.
“I was kind of in disbelief and I can’t believe this is happening,” said Rebecka Perfitt, the Billings resident who started the petition, Wednesday.
When Perfitt posted about her experience with the Billings Food Bank, she didn’t expect it to gain so much traction.
“I had hundreds of inbox messages just sharing the different stories of everyone on there,” Perfitt said.
Perfitt runs a nonprofit that supports families with kids in the foster care system dealing with trauma. She had taken one of her clients to get food, a struggling mom trying to get back on her feet.
“So, the mom said, 'I have been homeless, and I don’t have an ID yet, we’re working on getting that.' And Sheryle then turned to her and said, 'then you get no food.' I was kind of blown away. This is the place you go for help?” said Perfitt.
Shandy confirmed the incident and told MTN News in an interview she is well aware of the growing criticism. She’s helped served more than 120,000 families in the last four years and has been director of the food bank for four decades.
When contacted by MTN News, Kathy Whittenberger, president of the Billings Food Bank, declined to comment on the petition on the record.
Shandy said she received death threats when she was among the group that started the food bank in the early 1980s from people who did not want the organization to open in Billings, though she did not provide specifics as to who made the threats.
She acknowledges those complaints now have never been louder. She said she’s hired a private investigator to determine exactly who’s behind them.
“I’d like for them to walk in our shoes for just 10 minutes and see how we’re treated with the folks that come in and think that this is an entitlement program – which it isn’t,” said Shandy.
“It’s usually the same group of people. There is a group of people that do nothing but gripe all day,” Shandy said.
That’s a characterization that doesn’t sit well with Stacey Winkel. The Ballantine mother said she’s visited the food bank close to two dozen times but says she’ll no longer return.
“The bread was moldy. The milk was like three weeks expired. The meat was so freezer burnt, we couldn’t even give it to a dog,” said Winkel.
“We have people that go through it. We do our best and it’s free. It’s not like they paid for it. Some, if we still have any left, if somebody comes back, we’ll give them whatever it was,” Shandy said.
Many Facebook commenters on Perfitt’s post accused the food bank of handing out expired food. Shandy confirmed the allegation but noted it's rare.
“We’ve also been accused of giving out expired food, which barely happens,” said Shandy.
Those allegations are also supported by at least one former food bank employee.
MTN obtained a letter sent to the board by Ryan Johnson, who also claims that in his three weeks managing food and beverage operations, he witnessed everything from “aggressive and hostile interactions” to “expired and no good food sitting on warehouse shelves.”
He wrote the board: “People are denied food daily by the director of the operation. This makes no sense. This organization is grossly mismanaged. I left because morally I could not support what is happening in the confines of that building.”
“So, that’s just a disgruntled (employee), you know, and that happens all the time,” Shandy said in response to questions about the letter.
Shandy said it’s the food bank’s policy to deny food to clients if they’ve already used another other food-assistance service, such as Family Service.
“We always ask if they’ve gone to Family Service because it is double dipping. When we started this whole operation, we were supposed to be an emergency food bank that’s supplying several days groceries once a month, once every 30 days,” Shandy said.
“I do have an Irish temper, but it’s not directed at any poor soul that really needs our help. It’s somebody trying to get away with you know, not having to follow the rules,” said Shandy.
When asked if she felt if she was doing anything wrong, Shandy didn’t hesitate to answer.
“No. Absolutely not,” said Shandy.
But Perfitt disagrees and said rules or not, it all boils down to decency.
“My biggest fight is we should respect and just be kind. No one knows what anyone is going through at any given time. Just walk out in kindness,” Perfitt said.