HAYWARD, Calif. (KGO) -- Volunteers in the city of Hayward served about 700 boxes at its weekly no-contact food distribution event on Thursday before someone discovered a signed letter from President Donald Trump inside.
"It's wholly inappropriate and a potential violation of law for public officials to use public resources for political purposes and to attempt to influence the outcome of an election," Hayward Public Information Officer Chuck Finnie told ABC7 News.
The letters were written in both English and Spanish, addressing families with the following message:
As President, safeguarding the health and well-being of our citizens is one of my highest priorities. As part of our response to the coronavirus, I prioritized sending nutritious food from our farmers to families in need throughout America."
President Trump writes on to point out best practices during the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, Finnie considers the letter "soft propaganda."
On Thursday afternoon, the city of Hayward sent out an apology to residents who received the note.
"We apologize," it read in part. "Upon discovery, each of the letters was removed from each of the remaining 35-pound boxes of produce, meat, eggs and other dairy products. However, approximately 700 of the boxes were distributed prior to the discovery."
"We're really sorry if it offended anyone or upset anyone," Finnie added. "Because, you think about the families and households that are relying on that program. And just how they might have felt when they opened that letter, given some of what's been said over the last four years."
He continued, "The city of Hayward is one of the most diverse cities in all of California. Regardless of anyone's political affiliation or attitudes about this election, we're a city of immigrants. A large percentage of the folks who live in our community even speak a different language other than English as the first language in the household. And much of the president's rhetoric throughout his time in office and when he was running for the presidency has been deeply offensive to people in the community."
Boxes were delivered to the city and food banks across the country through the federal Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
ABC7 News reached out to the department.
The USDA said in part: "Politics has played zero role in the Farmers to Families food box program - it is purely about helping farmers and distributors get food to Americans in need during this unprecedented time. The letter from President Trump has been included for several months now and contains health information that is critical to slowing the spread of COVID-19."
"This is the first time the letters have appeared in the boxes," Michael Altfest told ABC7 News.
Altfest is the director of community engagement and marketing at the Alameda County Community Food Bank (ACCFB).
He explained the letter could potentially impact the status of food banks and other nonprofits nationwide.
"As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, we are not allowed to and we actively do not endorse political candidates for office," he said.
Altfest said it's critical for ACCFB to make clear that the food bank and others nationwide are nonprofit and nonpartisan organizations.
"We treat this the same way, whether it is a Republican or a Democrat," he added. "Our ability to serve the community is dependent on our 501(c)(3) status."
He said food banks are bearing a heavy burden during COVID-19.
"And the one thing that we just need to be focused on is making sure we're getting enough food out into the community right now," Altfest shared. "That is paramount. That is our focus."
However, in order to remove the letters, volunteers had to pivot their efforts.
"Sometimes the letters are buried right at the bottom of a box weighing 35 pounds of food. It does take a lot of effort," he admitted. "But like anything, especially during this pandemic, the effort is worth it as long as it makes sure that we are able to continue serving our community for as long as we are needed."
Altfest said the food bank is expecting to receive up to 24,000 CFAP boxes during this round in October.
"So that is 20-24,000 boxes that will contain this letter, that could potentially cause issues for us," he said.
The San Francisco-Marin Food Bank confirmed volunteers have also had to remove letters from its distribution boxes.
A food bank spokesman shared the following statement: "The Food Bank is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization and we only use our food distributions to communicate messages about food issues. We have asked volunteers to take the letters out of the USDA Food boxes we are distributing as we would not want any participants to think we are in any way affiliated with the government or pushing a political message."
You can read the full text of the president's letter below:
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