Working with Anne Arundel County schools, an independent foundation helped feed needy children and their families for more than five years.
But that came to an abrupt halt a year ago, after a member of the Journey Foundation reviewing the organization's bank records saw that more than $3,700 was missing.
Within months, the foundation was defunct, and one of its founders, then a teacher a Corkran Middle School in Glen Burnie, was charged with stealing from it.
On June 11, a tearful Pamela Fowler pleaded guilty to felony theft from the foundation that was the brainchild of her and her brother, jazz musician Norman Evans, whose annual spring concerts raised thousands of dollars for Journey. Twenty related counts were dropped.
Fowler, 50, was ordered by Annapolis District Judge Jonas Legum to serve 20 days — 10 weekends — in jail. She will also be on probation for three years and was fined about $2,200, roughly what the foundation lost.
With the organization gone, there is no restitution.
"I made a mistake," Fowler told Legum on Tuesday, as a few of her former foundation colleagues watched. "I do understand the damage that has been done to them."
The organization grew to provide food to as many as 350 families a month, according to school officials, who said nothing has replaced Journey in that role, though other community groups and religious organizations help provide food for needy families, and schools pitch in.
Assistant State's Attorney Marot Hoskins told Legum that board member Yvonne "Rie" Atkinson, a community reinvestment officer and marketing director at the Bank of Glen Burnie, discovered checking account discrepancies in April 2012 — electronic transactions dating to January that were not approved by either Atkinson or another board member authorized on the account.
Fowler, she said, "used this money for her own personal use," Hoskins said.
More than $2,000 had gone to Verizon, and Atkinson reversed a mid-April $1,460 Western Union payment to Baltimore Has and Electric Co., she said.
Within weeks, Fowler and Evans were removed from the board, which contacted Anne Arundel County police, Atkinson said. Fowler declined to comment after the court hearing.
According to charging documents, Fowler admitted to Atkinson that she "had nowhere else to turn and needed the money" and promised to repay it.
Court records indicate that Fowler lost her home in Glen Burnie to foreclosure last year, and she'd previously declared bankruptcy.
In court Tuesday, Assistant Public Defender Tiffany Harrell said Fowler's car had been repossessed. Seeking probation before judgment, which would have allowed Fowler to avoid a conviction if she completed probation, Harrell said Fowler was suffering from depression and anxiety and "has since gotten her mental health under control."
The group's leftovers, from its refrigerator to its food, went to the Anne Arundel County Food Bank.
"The kids lost," said Bob Mosier, the school system's spokesman, who was a Journey board member.
Fowler and her brother kicked off their effort to feed hungry students after Fowler spoke to him about children who fell through the cracks, and in 2006, the Journey Foundation was launched with a small board. Money for meals went directly on Corkran Middle students' lunch cards. Families picked up food at the school, where the organization had a pantry, Fowler told The Baltimore Sun in 2007.
The program expanded to provide holiday meals to those families as well as families from Brooklyn Park Elementary and Middle; Annapolis Elementary and Middle; and Freetown and Quarterfield Elementary schools, according to school officials. In addition to an annual concert at Abundant Life Church in Glen Burnie, which also featured a silent auction, donations of food and money maintained Journey.
School officials said Fowler has not worked at Corkran since May 1, 2012, and had been on leave for the past school year until she began working May 21 as a special-€education clerk at Brooklyn Park Elementary.
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