2 Investigates: Food bank donations found at BBQ

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HENRY COUNTY, Ga. - A Channel 2 Action News undercover investigation found food donated to feed local underprivileged families was served up to hungry NASCAR fans.

Former charity workers reached out to Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant months ago, saying they were upset over what they were ordered to do by a man who co-founded a large food bank in Henry County.

Channel 2 Action News producers went undercover at the Atlanta Motor Speedway in September. While NASCAR racers fired up their engines, Channel 2 cameras found a group of men firing up a grill, “the King Kong of all grills,” by one man’s account.

"We'll be doing steak, shrimp, tilapia. We've got chicken and dumplings going. I've got a pot of chili going," one man said.

The barbeque, free for hundreds of race fans, was organized by Donny Carden, the co-founder of We Care For All. The nonprofit food bank sits two miles from the track in Henry County.

"We like to serve people. I'm a Christian, and I serve people through Jesus," said Carden.

But Diamant spoke with five former We Care employees and volunteers who said the food Carden serves up at races in Atlanta and at races across the country is supposed to feed underprivileged families.

They said when donations come to We Care from big companies, like Walmart, Sam's Club and Buckhead Beef by the truckload, Carden calls "dibbs" on the best items and stockpiles it in refrigerated trailers, sometimes for months, until race days.

"The best of the best shrimp, steak, ribs," said former We Care employee Rhonda Miller.

We Care For All is basically a co-op where smaller food banks and church groups pay a monthly fee to drive through We Care's Hampton warehouse once a week to pick up donations.

Kathe Puzio was one of the thousands in need of help who paid into We Care's program.

"I planned my meals around what I got," said Puzio.

On a recent donation day Channel 2 Action News cameras captured a lot of produce and household items being given out by We Care. Whereas before, "We were getting a lot more meat stuff, which we haven't gotten any of that in a while. I would say in a year or so," said Puzio.

When Diamant approached Carden about the claims, he denied that the meat served at races was donated to We Care. Carden told Diamant that he is involved with several charities and all of the meat served up at the races is either purchased or donated specifically for them.

"And we don't bat an eye when we go out there to do that. It's all a good cause," said Carden.

Right before that September race, Channel 2 Action News undercover cameras caught one of We Care's refrigerator trucks leave the warehouse, pick up what Carden said was a palette of ice and then head over to the race track. There were boxes of both ice and meat unloaded off the refrigerator truck and onto a pickup truck. Later, Channel 2 cameras captured empty meat boxes in the pickup parked next to the grilling area at the track.

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One former We Care volunteer admits that at previous races, "I was personally ripping off the labels that said Kroger and Walmart all over the food," said Chuck Miller.

Carden maintains his innocence, claiming the whistleblowers want payback after he let them go.

"They said they would close it down, and they would ruin me and that is exactly what they tried to do," said Carden.

Channel 2 Action News spoke with George Howell, who oversees donations for Morrow-based Bimbo Bakery. Howell said he found piles of baked goods the company gave to We Care's food bank out at the race track. Howell has never been employed by Carden.

"That's not helping the needy at a race track, because how many needy people are you going to see who pay for a ticket and go watch and go down there looking for something for free?" said Howell.

Howell said he now sends the bakery's extras elsewhere.

"I think they just got greedy," said Howell.

Representatives from Kroger and Buckhead Beef said their donations were not meant for barbeques. Despite his denials, Carden resigned from We Care For All in June after the whisteblowers first sounded the alarm to the charity's board.