ROCK ISLAND - A Quad City meal program that feeds close to 17- hundred kids in Illinois and Iowa is being forced to shut down next week, the focus of an ongoing federal investigation.
The Quad Cities Area Children's Food program feeds children at 36 different meal sites, including several local schools, and the Two Rivers YMCA.
The 15-year-old program is scheduled to close down for good on Friday, November 17th.
"I have been informed it is coming to an end. It's a big deal that it's closing and it impacts a number of communities," said Pastor Mariah Marlin-Warfield, at Church of Peace in Rock Island, one of the meal sites.
"The greatest concern I have and we have here at Church of Peace is how the closing of the program will impact the children and families in this neighborhood," she said.
A statement from the QCACD board sent to WQAD says "We are closing on November 17th due to circumstances outside of our control."
But sources say the closing is directly related to the removal of longtime director and founder of the program, Nora Steele, who abruptly left the program in June.
"One day I was informed she was no longer in charge," said Pastor Mariah.
Sources say Steele and the program are currently under federal investigation. The program was funded by large USDA grants, and Steele's use of those federal dollars is now being audited.
Sources also say possible discrepancies were discovered by a program employee when Steele went on vacation.
A message left for Steele had not been returned at news time.
WQAD has learned Steele served time in prison in 2003, after being convicted of embezzling more than $188,000 while office manager at Sandstrom Corp. in Port Byron.
At the time, she was ordered to pay back the money.
Steele co-founded the meal program while she was a secretary at Church of Peace, and under her direction, the numbers grew.
"In 2016, the Quad City Area Children's Food Program became its own organization, it's own 501-3C with a board of directors. They moved their offices out of the church, officially up and running out on its own," said Pastor Mariah.
"Our hope is that the schools or another organization will be able to pick up the work of the program," she said.