UPDATE: Food Lifeline has extended its deadline for the Queen Anne Food Bank to come into compliance with its antidiscrimination policy to the end of November.

The Queen Anne Food Bank is at risk of losing support from Food Lifeline after the nonprofit found the church-run service in violation of its nondiscrimination policy.

It started after Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish’s new pastor, Father Rich Luberti, changed the wording of hiring documents two months ago to require those working at the food bank to support a Catholic lifestyle, said Food Lifeline communications director Mark Coleman.

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 found the wording of the hiring documents to be just that.

“We notified them, told them that they were out of compliance,” Coleman said, “and we have an ability by way of contract to stop serving them immediately.”

Food is still being delivered to the food bank, as Food Lifeline has granted the church an extension through Oct. 31 to come back into compliance with their contract.

“We are waiting for them to come into compliance by that,” Coleman said, “and if not, at the end of October we will stop supplying them with food.”

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.

Luberti has not yet returned calls and emails from the Queen Anne News seeking comment.

The Queen Anne Community Council sent Sacred Heart a letter on Aug. 30 that urged the church to work on an “equitable resolution.”

“Should the QAFB close or even scale back its operations the effect on the community would be immediate and devastating,” a portion of the letter reads, “especially given the increasing number of patrons in need of QAFB benefits and the fact that there are no other similar services offered in close geographic proximity.”

Luberti issued a letter to the parish on Sept. 23 that appears to address the concern about Food Lifeline, but does not name the nonprofit directly.

“We don’t serve food to hungry patrons because they are Catholic; we serve them because WE are Catholic and they are hungry,” part of the letter reads.

Queen Anne Food Bank director Stephanie Monroney recently resigned, after serving in the role for the past two years. Operations manager Emily Meade also recently resigned, and is now attending the Seattle Culinary Academy at Seattle Central College. One other food bank staff member also recently left.

Robert Bach, a Culinary Institute of America graduate with 20 years of experience in the food industry, was hired on as the new operations manager, and started on Sept. 17.

“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.”

Sacred Heart parishioner Mike Harrington said he thinks the matter with Food Lifeline will be resolved soon, and that the issue has been exacerbated by confusion. He said the food bank is only asking that people working there be comfortable with the goals of Sacred Heart and its values.

Harrington used to be the president of the Queen Anne Food Bank, but Luberti suspended it.

“The word he used was suspend the board, but he has not reinstated it,” Harrington said.

Parishioners like him still work at the food bank, he said, and are critical to its success.

“Most food banks really rely on volunteer help,” Harrington said. “They usually have two or three salary people who run the place, but they can’t exist without a good cadre of volunteers.”

Harrington said there are plans for meetings with Food Lifeline in the future, and he’s certain the issue can be resolved, even if it takes longer than the current extension allows.

“I’d be surprised if Food Lifeline, if we had to ask for another couple of weeks or something, I’d be surprised if Food Lifeline wouldn’t do that,” he said. “It would leave a significant gap that would need to be filled in some way.”

Dennis O’Leary, director of the Archdiocese of Seattle Chancery Operations and Planning, doesn’t think Food Lifeline will pull its contract with the Queen Anne Food Bank, noting that it has been a ministry of Sacred Heart since the church took it over the bank from St. Vincent De Paul in 2012.

“The food bank is a ministry of the parish, of Sacred Heart parish,” he said, “and as such the pastor wants to have, as a requirement, the head of the food bank be a Roman Catholic, and he’s certainly within his rights under the First Amendment to do that.”

The Catholic Church runs a number of food banks, and with Food Lifeline’s support, O’Leary said. While Food Lifeline is saying the Queen Anne Food Bank needs to change its policy, O’Leary said the nonprofit has not provided formal notification within 30 days as required.

“Once it gets talked about, it will get resolved,” he said.

Attempts by the Archdiocese to reach Food Lifeline for that discussion were expected to occur today (Thursday, Oct. 11).

“It’s just been kind of difficult to get the parties together, to get the pastor there at Sacred Heart and to get a principal or decision-maker there at Food Lifeline together to talk,” said Archdiocese of Seattle spokesperson Greg Magnoni.

He said the Archdiocese is not currently planning for a contingency should food stop coming through from Food Lifeline.

“We see no reason why we wouldn’t be able to go forward with Food Lifeline,” Magnoni said, but it’s now a matter of getting all parties together. “If they’re concerned about discriminatory practices, we understand that full well.”