It was forty years ago on November 14, 1979 that Second Harvest, a national nonprofit addressing hunger America, was established in Phoenix, Arizona. Today, the organization, now known as Feeding America, based in Chicago, is the nation’s largest hunger-relief and food rescue organization with a nationwide network of 200 food banks providing services to all 50 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. Last year, Feeding America provided 4.2 billion meals to people in need.
Food banking as we know it began in 1967 when John van Hengel started the first food bank in Phoenix. Van Hengel, a retired businessman, was volunteering at a local soup kitchen when he was presented with the idea of a “bank” where people can go for food if they need help and where others can make deposits, or donations. As he established food banks in other cities and states, the need for a national organization to coordinate efforts and work with national food companies led to the establishment of Feeding America.
Food banks started as distribution centers for food donations and partnered with pantries and soup kitchens to serve people in need. Slowly, programs targeting specific populations emerged, like senior food boxes and after-school meal programs. Most recently, food banks have partnered with schools and veterans hospitals to establish emergency food pantries onsite.
“For 40 years, Feeding America food banks have provided food to millions and millions of families during their times of need,” said Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America. “And in that time, our work has evolved to also increase access to healthy, nutritious food, and help families gain the tools they need for lifelong food and financial security.”
Through the years, Feeding America has grown to distribute more food, including more than 1.5 billion pounds of fresh produce, to people in need and to address the root causes of hunger. Many food banks across the country have already begun this work. Job-skills training programs have sprung up in many food banks, from culinary training programs in community kitchens to warehouse training at distribution centers. Some food banks are conducting outreach programs to connect families to government assistance programs like SNAP, WIC, and even utility assistance.
“The people who are turning to food banks for help do so humbly, graciously and with gratitude. They are neighbors, coworkers, classmates, and friends who do not know how they are going to feed their families and themselves,” Babineaux-Fontenot said. “Oftentimes, it is an illness, an accident, or other unforeseen circumstance, that throws a family’s budget for a loop.”
According to a report from the Federal Reserve Board, 40% of American adults, if faced with a $400 emergency expense, would either need to borrow money, sell something, or not be able to make that payment.
“Food banks are a trusted community resource. More than 40 million people already turn to food banks for help,” said Babineaux-Fontenot. “If we can provide additional support and connect them with services that will help them regain financial stability, why wouldn’t we? We know it will take a lot more than food to achieve a hunger-free America.”
To learn more about Feeding America and the nationwide network of food banks, visit feedingamerica.org.
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About Feeding America
Feeding America® is the largest hunger-relief organization in the United States. Through a network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs, we provide meals to more than 40 million people each year. Feeding America also supports programs that prevent food waste and improve food security among the people we serve; educates the public about the problem of hunger; and advocates for legislation that protects people from going hungry. Visit www.feedingamerica.org, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.