A longtime contractor that provided meals to thousands of home-bound elderly residents and charter school students in the District, Alexandria, and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties shut down operations abruptly this week, setting off a scramble to deliver replacement food.
Nutrition Inc., a Southeast Washington food vendor serving the region since 1976, began notifying local governments June 2, a Thursday, that it would no longer be able to produce the meals after June 6, the following Monday, according to a notice the D.C. Office on Aging sent to agency officials June 3.
The company, led by Canjor Reed, 53, of Bowie, provided more than 13,000 meals a day, serving organizations and individuals, 60 percent of them to the District. Area officials hastily pulled together temporary replacement vendors, but the District, which had been in contract talks with the company, saw some food service disruptions.
“It’s been hard; there aren’t that many people who can produce that many meals that stop all at once,” said Sally S. White, 51, executive director of Iona Senior Services, an advocacy group based in Northwest Washington.
Iona has worked with the Capital Area Foodbank, Whole Foods Market and ordinary donors, White said, and planned to send volunteers to deliver to 100 homes Saturday. While most people have received food, “others are running out,” she said.
Nutrition fed about 1,900 seniors in the District a week, and city officials said they are enlisting food and transportation vendors, prioritizing about 300 seniors who are the most frail, facing conditions such as dementia and physical disabilities that make it difficult to cook or shop for food.
“We have to be able to think out of the box, and number two, we need to be better at setting up red flags when unexpected things happen,” said John Thompson, confirmed this week as director of the D.C. Office on Aging.
In Prince George’s, about 700 seniors regularly receive the meals, including weekends in some cases.
“It is very unfortunate,” said Theresa Grant, acting director of family services for the county. But, she added, “Everyone stepped up.”
After calling several companies, Grant secured a commitment from Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland to service about 350 seniors at their homes and an additional 350 lunches at 19 sites. The county public works department delivered them.
Deborah Brown Anderson, the contracts and grants manager for the city of Alexandria’s Department of Community and Human Services, also was able to locate another vendor without interruption, serving 100 seniors at three sites.
Reed, Nutrition’s chief executive, said District officials were slow to issue a new contract that would reflect falling D.C. orders and rising food, fuel and labor costs. While the District made up the bulk of the company’s business, about 15 percent came from Prince George’s, 5 percent from Alexandria, and the rest from Montgomery and charter schools.
A three-generation, family-run business, Nutrition saw revenues fall from $14 million to $10 million over two years, just after it bought a 16,000-square-foot warehouse in Landover. Reed said she let go 140 workers and expects to file for bankruptcy.
“We wanted to make sure the seniors are fed,” Reed said. “That’s always been our objective.”
She said she asked city procurement officials to speed up the bid solicitation process or permit one of two companies to buy Nutrition and keep its sole-source contract. “It wasn’t one-day notice. It’s been an ongoing conversation. . . . They went in another direction.”
Thompson said he was unaware of Reed’s suggestion.
Staff writers Annie Gowen and Miranda S. Spivack and news researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.