By Ramona Giwargis | Merced Sunstar
Merced County terminated its contract with Make Someone Happy after the state pulled its funding for the food truck project, two months after a Merced Sun-Star investigation.
The loss of funding forced officials to terminate the county’s food truck contract, effective April 10.
The county’s Human Services Agency awarded Make Someone Happy a$177,528 contract in 2013 to operate a truck to sell fruits and vegetables at sites around the county. The Board of Supervisors renewed the contract for $113,410 the following year.
HSA officials paid for the $113,410 contract using DoWith (Do Whatever It Takes at Home) funds, which are meant to provide services for children in foster care and group homes. At least one state official told the Sun-Star that using the funding on the food truck was “inappropriate” because it doesn’t target those in the child welfare system.
“It has to benefit children and families within the group home system,” said Sha Rena Chatman, a social service consultant with the state Department of Social Services, in a previous telephone interview.
The Sun-Star also found an oversight committee composed of Merced County senior level managers was formed to oversee use of the DoWith funds, but it failed to meet regularly and dissolved.
Make Someone Happy, which formed months before it won the six-figure contract, was the only bidder. Several nonprofits told the Sun-Star they would have been interested in competing for the contract, but county officials failed to notify them about the bid.
A review of public documents revealed Make Someone Happy leaders met with county officials and had a fully-equipped truck before winning the contract. And despite being touted as a way to bring fresh produce to rural communities, the truck was making weekly stops at county buildings.
HSA officials met with Make Someone Happy’s founders, Don Bergman and Nancy Young-Bergman, on April 9 to notify them the contract would be terminated. A letter from HSA Director Ana Pagan on April 22 confirmed the termination and offered gratitude for the Bergmans’ “acceptance of the situation without objection.”
Pagan could not be reached for comment.
The contract, which would have expired Oct. 31, had a clause allowing for early termination.
The loss of the contract – which included salaries, paid mileage for personal vehicles, cellphone bills and supplies – meant the Bergmans need to re-evaluate the project.
“Obviously, I would say I’m not too happy that it went down,” Don Bergman said Thursday. “They just said that the funding is being eliminated and as of April 9 they have to terminate the contract. But I have no hard feelings against the county or the HSA. It’s the county’s right to do that.”
Bergman said he and his wife will keep the food truck by using their own money. The couple has temporarily eliminated five of the 15 stops the truck made around the county, including two stops to Human Services Agency buildings.
“We’ve made some financial adjustments,” Bergman said. “But the truck is still going out to the community. I think it’s a great project and we’re going to continue it.”