Mayor: Stunning problems at Grant County Rescue Mission "must get fixed"

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Bob Segall/13 Investigates

MARION, Ind. (WTHR) - Findings of WTHR's three-month investigation into problems at the Grant County Rescue Mission made front page news in Marion, Indiana today, and the city's mayor says it is now the talk of the town.

"I think we're still in a state of shock and kind of stunned by what we saw. It was a surprise for all of us to see what you uncovered inside there," mayor Jess Alumbaugh told Eyewitness News.

One of the charity's board members said he was surprised, too.

"It was rough to watch. It was rough for everybody," said GCRM board member Jim Bowman.

Both men say the problems identified by Eyewitness News must be fixed for the charity to repair its now tarnished image.

Caught on camera

Eyewitness News exposed horrible living conditions for residents at the charity's homeless shelter for men, including a massive infestation of mice and bedbugs.

WTHR's investigation also showed thousands of items donated to the charity – including clothes, furniture and food – were stockpiled and forgotten until they became so contaminated, the health department ordered them to be removed from the rescue mission's headquarters. Undercover video shows truckloads of those donations being dumped and burned.

And 13 Investigates followed truckloads of donated food. Some of the donations intended for the homeless mission were re-directed to Grace Community Church. Once there, the head pastor, some of his family members and church employees sorted through boxes of donated food, taking some of the boxes into the church and putting others into their cars and driving away. The pastor, Tom Mansbarger, is president of the GCRM board of directors. 13 Investigates cameras saw him carry boxes of the donated food into his own garage and home.

Mansbarger later explained he and his church members consume some of the food "because it's there to take" and because the rescue mission does not have enough space to store it.

"If I thought I were doing something wrong, I would have never done it in the first place," Mansbarger told WTHR.

Asked about dozens of pizzas donated to the rescue mission weekly by Little Caesar's Pizza – and why many of those pizzas never get served to the charity's homeless residents – GCRM executive director Tom Ballard told Eyewitness News he takes the pizzas home once they get freezer burned to feed to his five Rottweilers and to the large fish in his backyard pond.

"I can see where people might think that looks bad, but I'm not taking food so others can't have it," Ballard said.

"Problems don't just go away"

The mayor called the video "stunning."

"That was surprising to me. Very surprising," he said. "To see what you guys were able to video causes you to question some things, and the alarm bells start to ring."

Alumbaugh said the rescue mission serves a crucial role in the community, and that deplorable conditions inside the charity documented by WTHR and health inspectors is something he takes personally.

"These are people in my city, Marion, the place I love. This is where I was born and raised. I never left. Those are people I know, and when things aren't right, we need to try to make them right. If that place isn't here, it's going to hurt Marion," the mayor said.

Alumbaugh said he is relieved to see conditions at the mission have improved since state and local inspectors ordered a massive cleanup. But he believes more needs to be done to repair the charity's image.

After seeing WTHR's investigation, Alumbaugh said anyone who would deny there are serious problems to be addressed at the rescue mission is not being realistic.

"We know there has to be some improvement there," he said. "Problems don't just go away because you look the other way. You have to take them head on, find solutions to fix the problems, so let's just get it right. Let's fix this and make it right."

That will now be the responsibility of the charity's board of directors.

WTHR reached out to six GCRM board members Friday morning. Only one agreed to meet and discuss the investigation.

Not giving up

"I didn't know this was going on, and I feel pretty confident other board members didn't know either," Bowman told Eyewitness News.

The Gas City businessman has served on the board for six years and considers it an honor. "There are so many good things that happen and so many lives changed," he said.

Bowman said what he saw on video – like one of his fellow board members taking donated food to his own home – was very troubling.

"It needs to be addressed. It's inappropriate and needs to be taken care of. Things have to change," he said.

Bowman said he "feels terrible" for not detecting problems inside the mission, explaining that he and other board members visit the building once monthly for a board meeting, entering and exiting through a door located just feet from the board room. "That's where we go in. We meet, we discuss business, we pray, and then we leave to go to work. We trusted the paid staff to take care of things. We didn't think it was our job to police the place because we trusted the people in charge who are supposed to be doing that."

Asked about some donors' suggestions that the charity needs new leadership, Bowman said a shakeup may be needed.

"As a board, I think in some ways we did fail because there needs to be more checks and balances. If we have to have a new board and I have to resign, it will be tough for me because I love this organization, but I think we should do whatever it takes to regain the public's trust. This should be about what's best for the people who need the mission," he said.

What will it take to regain the public's trust?

"More transparency and more accountability," Bowman said. "I really feel we're going to make it right and it will be taken care of, and we'll come back stronger. We'll get it right. Don't give up on the mission yet!"