Food Banks are regional nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping food distributors, retailers, and producers who find themselves stuck with surplus product to make that food available to food pantries and other charitable food programs, rather than simply throwing it away.1
To understand the main problem that food banks solve, imagine that a company periodically has a few tractor-trailer loads of extra cereal that they need to get rid of for one reason or another. Many food pantries only have enough storage for a few cases of any given item at a time – and even the biggest ones generally only have space for a few pallets of a single thing. Is the company going to drive their trucks around to dozens of food pantries, most of which do not have loading docks or forklifts, in order to drop off a few cases or pallets here and there? And then check in with all of them the next time around to see if they need more cereal? Of course not! Off to the dump it goes!2
The solution is a food bank – a single nonprofit entity with a big warehouse that every food company doing business in a given region can turn to when they have surplus product to donate, and that every food pantry, soup kitchen, and other charitable food program in the region can draw from when they need food.3 Even better, food banks also trade and share food amongst themselves via Feeding America, their national network, which greatly increases the variety of donated product that is available in any given area.
From the perspective of a food pantry or other charitable food distribution program, using a Food Bank is very similar to purchasing product from a grocery wholesaler, with the key differences being that a Food Bank’s inventory changes rather more frequently, and that Food Banks only charge a small per-pound shared maintenance fee (to cover the costs of trucking, storage, etc.) that typically amounts to a few pennies on the dollar relative to a product’s commercial pricing.
The bottom line result is that with a given investment of community resources, a food pantry that uses their regional Food Bank as their primary food source can acquire and distribute at least five to ten times as much food as a food pantry relying on any of the traditional alternatives (bulk purchasing, retail purchasing, food drives, etc.). This is, quite literally, the difference between most communities having the ability to get enough food to address their hunger problems, and not.
To find your local Food Bank, visit Feedingamerica.org.
Often these are items that were simply over-produced, or that were not commercially successful (most new food products fail), or that were packaged incorrectly in some way (such as bags being filled with the printing on the inside). Produce that isn’t quite perfect enough for the supermarket is another common example. Even things as simple as the athlete on the box getting him or herself into trouble can push a bunch of otherwise good food into the “unsalable” end of things. Planning in the food industry is hard. ↩
This is not even considering the accounting and liability problems that would come from such an arrangement, which are big enough to be deal breakers for many companies in and of themselves. ↩
Food banks also simplify the liability situation considerably, and make keeping the accounting straight easier to the point that the IRS actually gives favorable treatment to product donations made via food banks. ↩