Our History

For over 40 years, Feeding America has responded to the hunger crisis in America by providing food to people through a nationwide network of food banks, food pantries, and meal programs. 

History of Food Banks

The concept of food banking was developed by John van Hengel in Phoenix, AZ, in the late 1960s. Van Hengel, a retired businessman, volunteered at a soup kitchen trying to find food to serve our neighbors facing hunger. One day, he met a desperate mother who regularly rummaged through grocery store garbage bins to find food for her children. She suggested that there should be a place where food could be stored for people to pick up rather than being thrown away —similar to how “banks” store money for future use. With that, an industry was born.

Van Hengel established St. Mary’s Food Bank as the nation’s first food bank. In its initial year, van Hengel and his volunteers distributed 275,000 pounds of food to people in need. Word of the food bank’s success quickly spread, and states began to note. By 1977, food banks were established in 18 cities across the country.

The Need for Feeding America

As the number of food banks began to increase, van Hengel created a national organization for food banks, and in 1979 he established Second Harvest, which was later called America’s Second Harvest, the Nation’s Food Bank Network. In 2008, the network changed its name to Feeding America to reflect its mission.

Feeding America Today

Today, Feeding America is the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization—a powerful and efficient network of food charities nationwide. As the coronavirus pandemic brought record unemployment and instability, the Feeding America network rose to meet the need. Last year, the Feeding America network served 5.2 billion meals.

Learn more about how we get food to our neighbors through hunger relief programs, food rescue, and disaster response.