Oklahoma City-based charity Feed the Children eliminated its seven-member Chicago division, including Rick Bella, in an apparent cost saving measure at the end of March.

Industry veteran Bella left a position as the national produce manager for Chicago-based hunger relief Feeding America (formerly known as America’s Second Harvest) in March 2009 for an opportunity to be the
Chicago-based director of food procurement for Feed the Children.

Feed the Children has been embroiled in an upper management dispute that has hurt fund raising efforts, press reports indicate. In mid-February, CBS ran a story on the network’s nightly news show that was critical of the charity’s claims about its relief operation in Haiti. Before that, Feed the Children founder Larry Jones was ousted as the group’s president in November by its board of directors over allegations of financial wrongdoing. Jones has fired back with accusations of financial abuse by members of the board, including improper use of the charity’s funds by his own daughter.

Bella and the rest of the Chicago division for Feed the Children — Doug O’Brien, vice president of international policy research and planning; Eleanor Thompson, director of public policy and planning; Halley Torres Aldeen, director of research, analysis and planning; Teff Uchima, manager of international research and planning; Deirdre McMahon Boone, director of individual philanthropy ad marketing; and Bill Hebert, Jr., senior grants manager — were released via a conference call on March 29, Bella said.

Feed the Children operates six warehouse facilities in the U.S. and was looking to establish a Chicago office and warehouse as well, Bella said. But conflicts between founder Jones and the board of directors for the charity derailed plans to create the Chicago facility.

Bella said he and the rest of the staff in Chicago had developed an extensive 250-page strategic plan that outlined their vision for what the charity needed to do to expand its procurement and raise public awareness.

Unfortunately, Bella said, because of the turmoil surrounding Jones at the Oklahoma City headquarters, the plan was never endorsed by the board.

Bella said he was disappointed he couldn’t expand fresh produce distribution in the charity to the degree he envisioned. Only a few loads of produce were donated and moved through the system last year.

“Without implementing the strategic plan, they didn’t have anything in place to do that,” he said.

Bella, who has extensive experience in retail and wholesale operations, said he wants to stay involved with the produce industry in some way in the future.

“I just see huge potential with expanding (fresh produce distribution) to less fortunate people who can’t afford it or don’t have access to it.”