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National Food Bank Day: How Food Banks Work

It’s been 52 years since St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance was formed in Phoenix, Arizona. A local soup kitchen volunteer, John van Hengel, was inspired by a story from a young woman who told him that she depended on soup kitchens and food discarded in grocery store dumpsters to feed her children.

With a $3,000 grant from St. Mary’s Basilica parish in downtown Phoenix and with access to an abandoned building, van Hengel began with a simple concept: a food bank where companies could “deposit” excess food, and families and individuals in need could “withdraw” it.

While the original concept of a food bank did provide meals directly to families, including many children, the concept in the United States has shifted to where most food banks now act as distribution centers. Able to secure and store large quantities of food, they then distribute items to community organizations such as homeless shelters and food pantries, which then directly allocate food to those in need.  

To commemorate van Hengel’s brilliant idea, National Food Bank Day is celebrated the first Friday of every September.

Feeding America (formerly America’s Second Harvest – also founded by John van Hengel) is the primary food bank network in the United States. They’ve developed relationships to secure food donations from large grocery store chains and restaurants. This allows them to purchase food in bulk at substantial savings, receive food donations, then safely store food.

In 2018, Feeding America food banks and distribution centers help get 3.6 billion meals distributed in the U.S. It’s perhaps the best example of how people working with charities, business and the government can come together and work to address a problem.

The goal of Feeding America is to make sure no one goes hungry. Locally in Cincinnati, the Freestore Foodbank not only provides meals, but also support for the underlying reasons people need help. By offering holistic assistance and addressing the underlying reasons that affect a family’s ability to secure food, Freestore Foodbank provides solutions, not just a temporary fix. These other services include offering business appropriate clothing for people looking to find work, transportation services to jobs, help with securing birth certificates and ID cards, benefits support and much more in addition to access to food.

To celebrate National Food Bank Day, I hope you will join me in donating to your local food bank and thank them for the vital services they provide to your community. 


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