The Importance of Variety: A Food Bank With No Food

This story comes to us from John Arnold, then Executive Director of Feeding America West Michigan.

You may remember from our story about The Fruit Cocktail and Rice Guy that the impetus for pursuing the Waste Not Want Not research was our agencies’ propensity to stick very closely to a very specific shopping list – while at the same time we were turning away millions of pounds of product each month.  Today we’ll be showing that that phenomenon was not restricted to our service area as we begin sharing stories relevant to the finding that we can only end hunger if we provide the entire variety of donated foods made available to the charity sector.

On the last morning of the 2001 National Conference in Atlanta, I sat down to breakfast at a table where I didn’t recognize anyone.  After I sat down, I realized that the person to my left was sobbing.  At a pause in her sobs, as gently as I could I said that while it was clearly none of my business, she was obviously pretty upset about something, and was there anything that I or anyone could maybe do to help?

She managed to collect herself enough to semi-introduce herself as a relatively new director of a food bank.   This was her first conference, and unfortunately it was turning out it was probably going to be her last conference because it was pretty certain that when she went back to her food bank it would be to shut it down because they were failing financially and otherwise because they simply had no food and she didn’t know what to do about it.

I’m afraid I may even have chuckled a little as I said, “Well I think you just did what you need to do.  You just told somebody, and by happiest of coincidences, you just told somebody who knows everybody, more or less.  Certainly everybody who has a lot of food.  There is simply no way on earth that your food bank is going to fail for lack of food.  I can personally guarantee you of that, even if I have to fill it myself; I can do so, and I will.”

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