After months of downplaying Food Lifeline’s contributions to the Queen Anne Food Bank, Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish’s pastor Father Rich Luberti has agreed to stop requiring following the Catholic faith to work there.

Shortly after his assignment to Sacred Heart, Luberti changed the wording of hiring documents to require those working at the food bank to live in accordance with the Catholic faith.

Food Lifeline rescues millions of pounds of food from farmers, manufacturers, grocery stores, restaurants and retailers that otherwise would go to waste, and then redistributes it to partner agencies across Western Washington. It has 307 similar contract agreements with food banks and nonprofits in the region, and accounts for 38-40 percent of their supply.

Food Lifeline and the Queen Anne Food Bank entered a contract agreement in 2014 that requires no discrimination of volunteers or clients, and Food Lifeline determined the wording of the hiring documents put the food bank out of compliance.

Food Lifeline granted the Queen Anne Food Bank multiple extensions last year, after it failed to come back into compliance with its contract by an Oct. 31 deadline.

At the November meeting of the Queen Anne Community Council, Luberti said the church’s legal counsel didn’t believe changing the hiring policy was discriminatory on the basis of First Amendment rights. He also explained that he had changed the name to Queen Anne Food Bank: a Ministry of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which reflected what it always has been.

Food bank manager Tom Walsh estimated then that Food Lifeline contributed about 10 percent of the food used by QAFB.

After Food Lifeline offered QAFB options late last year, it had until Jan. 14 to respond, and Food Lifeline allowed until Jan. 18 to make a decision, according to FLL communications director Mark Coleman. Coleman confirmed in late January that Luberti had agreed to drop the religious qualification from future job postings.

QAFB had three staff positions in 2018, with director Stephanie Monroney leaving in September. Emily Meade also resigned last year to attend the Seattle Culinary Academy, according to a letter Luberti issued on Sept. 23, which identified Robert Bach as her replacement.

“He and his wife are Catholics who just moved to the Sacred Heart area,” reads Luberti’s letter to parishioners. “Robert is looking forward to leading the food bank as a way of giving back to the community. Please welcome him as he continues this important ministry in our parish.”

At this point, it’s unclear if Sacred Heart has any open positions left or if they’ve all been filled, presumably by practicing Catholics.

A receptionist at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish was about to connect Queen Anne News with Luberti last week, but the pastor was reportedly called into a meeting after we identified ourselves. Queen Anne News did reach Luberti on Wednesday, Feb. 6, and he directed the newspaper to Walsh, who did not implement the allegedly discriminatory policy.

Coleman tells Queen Anne News that no new contract was required, and Food Lifeline is taking Luberti’s word that religious qualifications will not be included in job postings for future hires.