Friday, March 26, 2010

How Feeding America works

Here's how Feeding America describes themselves:
Feeding America is the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief charity.  Our mission is to feed America's hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and engage our country in the fight to end hunger.
Each year, the Feeding America network provides food to more than 37 million low-income people facing hunger in the United States, including more than 14 million children and nearly 3 million seniors.
Our network of more than 200 food banks serves all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, securing and distributing more than 2.5 billion pounds of food and grocery products annually. Those member food banks support approximately 61,000 local charitable agencies and 70,000 programs, which provide food directly to individuals and families in need.

How in the world can Feeding America do all that???? 
In our quest to learn how the emergency food distribution system operates, we were fortunate to be able to interview two executives at Feeding America. Here are a few highlights we learned from Carol Garrity, Vice President of Capability Development, and Elaine Waxman, Director of Social Policy and Research:
  • Food flows into the emergency food distribution system at all levels.  For example, large corporations can donate to Feeding America (rather than having to separately donate to each regional food bank).  Local food companies, farms, and grocery stores can donate to individual food banks, pantries, or programs.  And individuals might donate to a food drive for their local food pantry.
  • Food banks "bid" on nationally donated food using a system of points based on the number of people in poverty in their service area.  This ensures that donated food goes where it is most needed.
  • Individual food banks arrange for transportation of the donated food to their warehouses.  Feeding America has no national distribution system of its own -- they don't want to store food; they want to get it out to the people who need it.
  • Food banks, pantries, and other hunger relief programs also purchase a large portion of the food they distribute, hence they depend heavily on monetary donations.  In some states, food banks also have the contract to distribute federal commodity food.
  • Feeding America oversees the Hunger in America 2010 study, an extremely thorough description of hunger based on interviews with 62,000 clients served by Feeding America agencies and questionnaires filled out by 37,000 Feeding America agencies.  The study provides Feeding America with accurate information on trends and needs, so they can better tune their services and lobbying to the real needs of hungry people.
This list could go on and on, but just one final point that impressed us -- Feeding America and food banks are engaged in many associate, holistic efforts.  For example, they are working to increase nutrition, ensure that those in need receive other services they are eligible for, such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and influence government farm policy in ways that ensure as fair a distribution of food as possible.