- Associated Press - Thursday, May 22, 2014

May 20

Merced Sun-Star: Ethical lapse belied Merced County Rescue Mission’s lack of faith

Christians are told “fear not,” that with faith anything is possible.

Sadly, the folks at the Merced County Rescue Mission appear to have lost faith in the residents of Merced. And we don’t know why.

Each year, the Rescue Mission serves Thanksgiving dinner and provides food boxes to the neediest of our community. In a city that was at the forefront of the economic collapse of 2008 and the Great Recession that followed, the mission still fills essential needs. Each year, the good people of Merced step up and meet those needs. It’s something Merced can and should be proud of; we all want to help.

But that’s why we are so troubled by reports that the mission misled the public about the amount of food it had on hand. Last year, as Thanksgiving approached, mission CEO Bruce Metcalf apparently feared he would not be able to meet the need. So he scheduled the traditional media event and then instructed volunteers - known as “disciples” - to remove turkeys from the freezers and to hide canned goods at an off-site warehouse.

Apparently, he wanted the public appeal for more turkeys to seem more compelling. Did Metcalf lose faith in Merced? Did he believe his neighbors wouldn’t respond if they thought only a little more was needed? Even worse, Metcalf admits the mission had hundreds of turkeys in storage from previous years when he told the community there were none. Metcalf said the old turkeys were to be given to five nonprofits to fill food baskets before Thanksgiving. That the mission wouldn’t use them.

These allegations don’t come from one person, but from half a dozen mission volunteers. One staff member, who said he was dismissed after expressing concern about this shell game, complained to the California attorney general’s office.

Such tactics were at the least duplicitous, and at the worst downright deceptive. Even Metcalf realizes it: “I guess people could interpret it as lying, but that was not the intention,” he said. Hiding food under beds and emptying freezers before a photo op is a sad insult to all those who have faithfully supported the mission’s work with money, food and time.

Explaining that this is the way the Thanksgiving appeal has always been done doesn’t excuse misleading the public. In a community where giving to others is part of the culture, manipulating them is unacceptable. The people of Merced deserve better.

Failure to recognize the seriousness of this situation and establish an approach that spells out the need will only further undermine support and threaten the mission’s important work. Blaming the disciples who identified the ethical lapses of hiding food while asking for more is highly inappropriate; it must stop.

The Merced Sun-Star has long supported the work of the mission. We know the need is great. But Metcalf and the mission’s board of directors must ensure a full and accurate accounting of not only what food is needed, but what is on hand. Then the mission, like other charities, can make its case to the public for support. We trust the public will respond, as it always has.

The ends never justify the means; not being caught in a lie isn’t the same as telling the truth. If the people who oversee the mission don’t realize that, the organization has bigger problems than hiding turkeys. Metcalf and the mission must not live in fear; they should have more faith in the good people of Merced.


May 20

Story Continues →