Thirty-Five Years of Fighting Hunger

John van Hengel the father of foodbanking at the first food bank, St. Mary's Food Bank in Phoenix, AZ
November 14, 2014
by Bob Aiken, Feeding Americ CEO

It’s amazing what 35 years can do. Today, 35 years after incorporation, the Feeding America network barely resembles its humble beginnings. On Nov. 14, 1979, John van Hengel and the leaders of fewer than 30 food banks around the country incorporated to form Second Harvest, America’s very first food bank network. In that first year, those food banks collectively distributed 3.9 million pounds of food on less than $600,000.

Thanks to the tremendous work of thousands of people over the past three and half decades, we have grown to be able to provide meals for more than 46 million people. Our capacity for food distribution has skyrocketed. Our network has grown into a more than $2 billion organization consisting of 200 food banks. Instead of 3.9 million, we now distribute 3.9 billion pounds of food to Americans facing hunger each year. Moreover, we have evolved from solely distributing food to being a leader in research and advocacy, a critical player in disaster relief and an innovator in targeted hunger programs.

The incredible growth we have experienced throughout the years could never be possible without the dedication and commitment from everyone involved in the Feeding America network— our leadership, staff, volunteers, donors, advocates and supporters. After two years with the network, the passion I see on a daily basis continues to inspire me.

While it is commendable that the Feeding America network has risen to meet the need through the years, there is also an unfortunate side of our growth – that despite our hard work, the need around us continues to rise. Today, on our 35th anniversary, let’s admire how far Feeding America has come, but also make it our goal to meet the need, and solve hunger. So that 35 years from now, every person in our nation will have the food they need for a bright, healthy future.

 I’ll conclude with a quote from Bill Bolling, CEO of the Atlanta Community Food Bank in Georgia who has been with the network since it began. With so much of experience, his thoughts on Feeding America’s anniversary hold much more weight than mine.

 "As we celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Atlanta Community Food Bank and the Feeding America network it is hard to believe that we actually created a "movement" along the way. We certainly didn't know in 1979 where we would be today. That is the beauty of it – not knowing the ultimate outcome or having any guarantee of success but continuing to be faithful to the call to serve.  

We have done it one day, one partnership, and 5 billion pounds at a time. We have not only fed millions of meals but have changed hearts and minds, made better public policy and inspired a nation to its highest ideals. In this Thanksgiving season, in our 35th year, we have much to be thankful for."

Tags: Hunger Heroes , Food Bank Network

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