Food Banks and How They Work
The Food Bank Process
Every year billions of pounds of food go to waste. The role of food banks around the country is to capture any and all surplus food and distribute it to the people in the community who need it most. Your local food bank is the first step toward ending hunger.
The food bank process varies based on location, population and the goal of the particular food bank. However, a basic outline of the food distribution process is as follows:
- Receive Donations: Community food banks receive food from various sources, including:
- Local and national non-profit organizations
- Government agencies
- Private citizens
- Faith-based charities
- Retail chains
- Organize Goods: Community food banks sort and organize food, checking expiration dates and repackaging as necessary.
- Distribute: The food bank employees serve or distribute the donated food to community members who need it most based on an internal qualifying system.
Types of Food Banks
A variety of hunger relief programs exist. Each ones serves a different type of person with different food needs.
School Feeding Programs – These programs are aimed at helping young school children without lunch or lunch money. School feeding programs are often run by the state and include a discounted lunch meal plan for families in a certain income bracket.
Soup Kitchens – Typically run by local volunteers, soup kitchens offer a hot meal for free or below market value. In the past, soup kitchens served mostly soup, but today they commonly serve a variety of hot meals. Typically, soup kitchens serve those without a steady home.
Food Pantries – A food pantry serves uncooked food to families who have a home, but are unable to put food on the table. Typically, food pantries serve the working poor. Food pantries are also a critical part of local emergency plans.
How to Donate to a Food Bank
Most food collection agencies have adopted the following guidelines for food:
- Must be non-perishable foods (boxed, canned goods)
- No expired goods
- No alcohol
- No food without a proper label
- No homemade meals/food
- No glass jars
- No opened or used items
In addition, most food collection agencies accept – sometimes prefer – donations. It is important to consider that while you may not need the assistance of an organization to provide yourself with basic nutrition, you might one day. When donating to a local food bank, look beyond purchasing the cheapest canned goods. These agencies help people just like you, and it is important to keep in mind the quality and nutritional value of the food you are donating.
Locating a Food Bank in Your Neighborhood
The following resources can help you find a food bank near you:
- Feeding America – Find Your Local Food Bank
- Homeless Shelter Directory – Emergency Food Programs by State
- org – Find a Food Pantry
During the holidays, charitable giving is more common, but food banks run year-round and they always need help and resources. The information above can help you locate a food bank should you need a place for a warm meal, or a supplement for dinner. These links can also help you find a place to volunteer your time and help your neighbors.
- How food banks work, by Sara Elliott
- A food banker explains how food banks work, by Miranda Everitt
- Families turn to food banks as Last Resorts, “not because they are free”, by Patrick Butler
- Illuminating Intersections: Hunger and Health, by Feeding America
- Toyota Helps a NYC Food Bank & Hurricane Sandy Victims, by Mark Graban
- Feeding America: Together, We Can Solve Hunger, by Feeding America
- GIVE WHAT YOU CAN, by Greater Chicago FOOD Depository
- Military Families Forced to Subsidize Income With Food Banks, by NBC News
- Food Banks and the welfare crisis, by Graham Riches