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Food bank still focused on mission

Food bank
Jan. 23, 2013 @ 11:09 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Huntington Area Food Bank officials said Tuesday that the loss of $23,000 through an alleged embezzlment has not affected the agency's mission to feed the hungry.

The agency also is working to develop and implement stricter procedures for the handling of its money, they said.

"I think it's important for the public to understand that amount of money is very high for an individual to steal from an organization, but it does not affect our ability to provide food to those in need in the community," said Tiffany Tatum, interim executive director. "In the last quarter, we distributed nearly one million pounds of food. We have not gotten away from our mission, which is to feed the hungry, and we continue to do that."

The food bank serves 290 agencies in a 17-county area in the Tri-State. In the fourth quarter of last year, the food bank processed nearly $156,000 in funds donated by individuals and businesses, according to its records.

The food bank's former executive director, Leigh Ann Zappin, was arrested Friday on charges she embezzled more than $23,000 from the food bank. Zappin first began working at the agency in 2008 under a community service program for a prior embezzlement conviction and was hired as its leader from fall 2010 to Oct. 3, 2012.

Tatum and board president Stanley Mills sat down for an in-depth interview with The Herald-Dispatch on Tuesday afternoon.

Mills and fellow board members stood by Zappin's hiring in 2011 despite reports of prior encounters with impropriety at two former employers, saying at the time that all funds were accounted for and systems were in place that would not allow any type of "monkey business."

On Thursday, Mills said the decision to keep Zappin as executive director came after positive recommendations from community members who spoke of her rehabilitation.

"The food bank board is made up of people trying to do good things. We thought she had been rehabilitated, and we put in some systems to try to prevent something like this from happening," Mills said.

When asked why the system of checks and balances set in place didn't catch potential problems earlier, Mills responded, "I don't have a real good answer for that."

"When you put systems in place, it's contingent on people actually following the system," said Tatum, who joined the food bank in October as interim director after Zappin resigned.

Paperwork already has been submitted to the food bank's insurance carrier to cover the reported theft. The food bank is expected to recover 85 to 90 percent of the $23,700 it reported as missing.

Mills said he is aware some people feel he and other board members share responsibility for alleged misconduct committed at the food bank and that some are calling for his resignation.

"I understand that completely and that may very well happen. Right now, we're making sure things are stable, hiring a new executive director, and I don't want to lose the expertise we have on the board right now," Mills said.

Under Tatum's direction, both said the food bank is working on tightening procedures and implementing more internal controls. Tatum, a certified public accountant with 10 years of experience in the nonprofit arena, has helped draft an accounting policies and procedures manual for the organization and has totally revamped many office duties, such as requiring better documentation for travel expenses and having at least three different people handling donations -- from opening the mail to processing the donation to making the deposit.

Tatum admitted alleged misappropriation of funds did not appear to involve those arriving by mail, but rather the forging of eight checks from the food bank's ledger. She added that individuals and businesses should not worry about where their donations are going, adding that the agency was just awarded a $150,000 grant from Walmart for the backpack program last week.

Board members will meet on Wednesday to address its routine audit, conducted every 18 to 24 months, by Feeding America. Board meetings are not open to the public.

Follow H-D reporter Beth Hendricks on Facebook or Twitter @BethHendricksHD.

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