Kendall food pantry recovering from scandal

 
 
Updated 1/18/2017 7:18 PM
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  • The Kendall County Food Pantry is now the Kendall County Community Food Pantry. A new organization took over last summer, after police began investigating allegations as much as $200,000 may have been stolen.

      The Kendall County Food Pantry is now the Kendall County Community Food Pantry. A new organization took over last summer, after police began investigating allegations as much as $200,000 may have been stolen. Susan Sarkauskas | Staff Photographer

Seven months after the former Kendall County Food Pantry was rocked by a scandal that threatened its existence, the charity has rebounded.

It's caught up on paying a backlog of bills and has sufficient cash on hand to carry on its mission, board Chairman Greg Witek said Tuesday, the day the charity's former treasurer was arrested on a charge of stealing thousands of dollars from it.

"That's based on the community saying, 'We want the needy cared for,'" Witek said.

Instead of withdrawing support when news broke in June that police were investigating the theft of as much as $200,000, businesses and individuals stepped up to keep the pantry going.

"It's almost a miracle," Tandy Pinter, former warehouse supervisor and now a board member, said in a Jan. 10 report the pantry made to the community. "The search warrants, missing money, and shocking drug overdose of our trusted leader in June should have collapsed the operation. Instead, our 50-plus volunteers kept their heads in the game, showed up every week, and persevered through their grief to guarantee the mission was fulfilled -- caring for the hundreds of clients each week, relying on us to help feed their families."

The task was daunting.

No money

In May, the pantry didn't have enough money to pay its water and electrical bills, let alone purchase food from suppliers such as the Northern Illinois Food Bank. Volunteers wondered where the pantry's savings had gone.

Yorkville police raided the pantry's offices June 1 and confiscated boxes of documents. The volunteer executive director, Maria Spaeth of Yorkville, resigned in tears. Her husband, Kenneth, the volunteer treasurer, also quit.

Maria Spaeth died several weeks later of drug intoxication at the Spaeths' second home in Lake Holiday. The DeKalb County coroner said she had mixed a prescription sedative, the narcotic hydrocodone and acetaminophen. He ruled the manner of death unknown.

In August, a new corporation was formed to take over the pantry, and it was renamed the Kendall County Community Food Pantry. Its board of directors is made of civic and community leaders, including a retired judge, the Kendall County sheriff and several mayors. They found negative bank balances, overdue bills, "no meaningful oversight" of finances and "a number of unusual and unexplained financial transactions and debts," according to the January report.

Transparency

The board vowed to be transparent to regain and retain the community's trust.

The pantry is undergoing an audit and preparing its 2016 tax return. It plans to make both available to the public. It is also writing the pantry's first annual report, to be released in a few months, Witek said.

The board also had to deal with emotional wreckage.

Witek said the two men charged with stealing from the pantry -- former Treasurer Kenneth Spaeth and Maria's father, William Crowley -- were longtime "friends" of the pantry. Maria was hired as executive director in 2008. She was named a Woman of the Year by the National Association of Professional Women in April.

When Maria died June 21, community members and pantry volunteers were stunned.

While nobody wants to see anybody or anybody's family go through anything like an investigation like this, Witek said, pantry leaders must put the finances of the food pantry and clients' welfare first.

"We are gratified justice seems to be one step closer," he said.

After Kenneth Spaeth and Crowley were arrested Tuesday, both on a charge of felony theft in excess of $10,000, Spaeth posted $2,500 bail and was released. He is due to appear in Kendall County Circuit Court at 9 a.m. Feb. 21. No information has been available on Crowley. Yorkville police and the special prosecutor assigned the case could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

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