The Food Trust, a Philadelphia nonprofit focused on increasing access to fresh and healthy food, said Friday that financial shortfalls have forced it to lay off employees and cancel its popular Night Markets.
Expenses were greater than revenues in recent years, said founder Duane Perry.
Perry began the Food Trust in 1992 and left in 2006. He has returned to help lead the organization as it searches for a CEO to replace Yael Lehmann, who resigned Sept. 20.
Because of his recent return, Perry said he was not able to answer specific questions about the organization’s finances. He did say he believed deficits were caused by bringing on staff via grant money and retaining the employees once the grants expired.
The news was first reported by Billy Penn.
The Food Trust brings in about $10 million annually from contributions and grants, program services, investments, and other areas, according to tax filings. Before the most recent layoffs, there were 103 employees. Some in management roles volunteered to resign without a buyout package and senior leadership has taken an average of a 10% salary cut, Perry said.
The Night Markets, one-night pop-up events inspired by outdoor markets in Asia, brought food trucks, fresh produce, and music to neighborhoods around the city. There have been more than 30 Night Markets since the program was launched in 2010 across 24 neighborhoods with 332 vendors. Perry said that he hopes people come out for the last one on Oct. 3 in Point Breeze at 20th and Federal Streets, and that he would love to see more communities launch their own versions. Perry said the Night Markets could return if a sponsor offered to underwrite all costs. He could not say how much each Night Market cost.
The Night Markets are "costing us, which is why we are terminating the program at the end of this year,” Perry said.
While layoffs hit every department, the research division, which measured impact, was eliminated, although Perry hopes to bring it back in the future.
Despite the cuts, Perry said the organization will continue its work with schools, corner stores, supermarkets, farmer’s markets, and community centers.
Contributions and grants brought in close to $7.8 million in 2016, according to the most recently available tax filings.
The organization’s revenue, less its expenses, tanked to under $60,000 from more than $650,000 in the four years ending in 2016.
As the nonprofit netted less money, records show, Lehmann, who was CEO, saw her salary increase 30% in three years to almost $180,000 in 2016.
“I can’t walk through what happened in the past,” Perry said. Lehmann could not be reached for comment.
“We’re on our way to being on a very firm financial footing and have a strong foundation for moving into the future,” Perry said.