Feed the Children - where did the truckers’ donations go?
August 2, 1999 - Comdata and 18 Wheels of Hope organizers have split the sheets with a well-known charity, leaving trucking contributors wondering what happened to the donations. Comdata's decision to sever the relationship with an Oklahoma charity called Feed the Children came in July after an investigative expose on the charity group appeared in The Daily Oklahoman.

The relationship was already strained by improprieties that occurred when a Nashville television station taped Feed the Children warehouse employees taking home food, clothing and household goods collected for needy children. The goods were collected last September through a truck show/food drive called "18 Wheels of Hope" and supposed to be distributed by Feed the Children Inc. The food drive was organized by Comdata Corp. of Brentwood, TN. Comdata chose Feed the Children as the beneficiary of the donations. Comdata reported 556 truckloads of food and $128,000 in cash donations donated by truckers at the 1998 event in Nashville.

The second scandal erupted when the Daily Oklahoman reported that Feed the Children Inc. financed a transaction that enabled the son of founder Larry Jones to run a business that ultimately defaulted on nearly $1 million, leaving hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid debt. In the editor's note, the Oklahoman disclosed some troubling factors. One, they were told by Jones that if they did not run the story, he would give them one "twice as good." Two, they implied that Feed the Children had been digging into the private lives of the reporters, hoping to deter the publication of the story.

Expressing shock and disappointed, the 18 Wheels of Hope organizers say they will choose another charity. The food drive is still scheduled to take place in September at a truck show in Dallas.

Where did the food and money donated by the truckers go? Although press releases from the Comdata's web site accounted for only 120,000 lbs., a spokesman for Comdata told Land Line that according to Feed the Children's records, all of the food was distributed. Comdata provided Land Line a nonspecific list of shipments to various states, but apparently no information was provided to them regarding the $128,000 in money collected. New facts published in the July 25 Sunday Oklahoman may provide a disappointing clue. According to the newspaper, much of the cash goes to pay the charity's expenses.

The Oklahoman says the cash and goods donated to Feed the Children are jumping. Annual contributions are up to $204.5 million for the fiscal year ended September 1998. Of that amount, said the newspaper, $47.5 million was in cash and the rest was food, child-care items, educational materials, medical supplies, building materials and other goods. The charity's 1997-98 tax forms show that the bulk of the cash went to pay administration, operations and fund-raising expenses. According to the Oklahoman, the group spent $25.8 million for direct mail appeals, postage and weekly television shows. The group also spent $4.4 million in pay and benefits for their 214 employees. This includes $268,000 for founder Larry Jones, his wife and his daughter, who is the in-house attorney for Feed the Children.

--Sandi Soendker