What is a food bank?





By Ed Nicholson

At Tyson, we get frequent requests for food donations from organizations claiming to be "food banks." Upon further query it often turns out that many of the groups–as worthy as their efforts are–are not food banks. There exists some confusion over the use of the term that needs to be cleared up.
A food bank is a non-profit organization that warehouses and distributes food to a network of local agencies, who in turn distribute to individuals in need.
Food banks receive food and other resources from a number of different sources, including food producers, grocery stores, individual donors and organizational food drives. Many food banks are also official distributors for USDA and FEMA government emergency food programs.
Food banks typically have a network of non-profit organizations to which they distribute, which can include food pantries, feeding sites, and shelters. Quite often, this is where the confusion arises. Food pantries are not "food banks" (even though some food banks operate food pantries and mobile food distribution systems).
The agencies are where the rubber meets the road. They distribute the food to families and individuals in need.
Tyson Foods is a proud supporter of the Feeding America Network, which includes more than 200 member food banks, serves every county in the U.S., and distributes more than 2 billion pounds of food relief each year.  95% of the food Tyson donates goes to Feeding America food banks. There are some very compelling, specific reasons our company chooses to partner with Feeding America. I’ll get into those in a later post.
The U.S., due in large part to the effectiveness of the Feeding America and its network of food banks has the most efficient emergency food distribution system in the world.

Art of the Cart 9–What is a food bank to do?



By Susan Brockway

I pose this question before I even begin, because unlike one or two years ago, things are not as easy, and need a quick solution.  I am a board member of a Feeding America member food bank.  My fellow board members, staff, volunteers and I are constantly looking for ways to bring more food into the pipeline.  We have increased our distribution by 1 million pounds in one year and will most likely see another increase this year.  Some would say “great job”.  I say this is a recipe for trouble and that we need to pay close attention to the trends. 
It is expected that we will see an increase of approximately 40% in the number of agencies and individuals needing food from community food banks.  Is anyone but me questioning why this is a dangerous trend?  While we certainly are working hard at  meeting the needs of growing numbers of families, food banks and agencies were never meant to take the place of retailers, gardens, co-ops and markets in supplying food. 
Some would say that food banks have been forced to become a retailer of sorts, making food choices and purchasing food to keep up with the increasing demand.  When people and organizations who have traditionally been food bank donors are forced by the economy to be food bank recipients, what are  we to do?
Please tell me you are not satisfied with the status quo.  Let’s open some dialogue about why most states are struggling to provide an easier venue for individuals to apply and qualify for food stamps? We are a food rich nation, how are we managing this asset? 

Susan Brockway is Sr. Community Relations Manager at Tyson Foods, deeply involved in the company’s hunger relief efforts.  She is also Board President of the Northwest Arkansas Food Bank.

photo Creative Commons, Mike Licht

Do the hungry deserve a bail out? A food bank leader weighs in.


Suzan Bateson, Executive Director of the Alameda County Community Food Bank, offered this comment  and perspective on  Sue Brockway’s post suggesting that the hungry deserve a bail out, too. We thought it compelling enough to stand on its own as an entry.


We can’t wait for a government bail out for the Alameda County Community Food Bank in Oakland, California.

An unprecedented spike in need has us scrambling to hand out food for today and hope for tomorrow by working on policies that we hope will brighten the future. We have an amazing outreach team that helps connect as many families as we can with the federal supplemental nutrition assistance (food stamp) program — that takes time, and these days with layoffs and underemployment, high food prices, and a 40% spike in clients who need food right now — time is our enemy.  We distribute millions of pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables each year and find a great deal of pride in that. Our operations team works harder than they knew they could to turn product around swiftly. Finance team keeps a close eye on our financials and oversees our administration while development works tirelessly to raise funds, food drive donations and create amazing events (you know you’ve seen us in action). I walk among angels each day with our staff, agency partners, board and donors — who strive to conquer hunger in our community.

We serve tens of thousands of hungry children. Children’s health is affected by improper nutrition — but even more delicate is their emotional state when parents work more than one job but can’t afford adequate nutrition for their family. Illness, depression, isolation and hopelessness can lead to a gang’s allure or academic failure. This is our future, America, how can we ignore our children.

Last week a 92 year old called the food helpline. He had never asked for help in his life. Our helpline operators take calls like these each day. They have more compassion than you can imagine. They take in more than anyone should ever hear.

How can you help? Many who read this won’t be able to make big financial gifts — but America is a wealthy country and has many wealthy citizens. Over the next couple of years it will be essential for Americans to give — at their greatest capacity — to basic needs organizations like food banks. With 36 million Americans affected by hunger it’s clear that we have a crisis that will play out in the future if we don’t provide a safety net today.

Sue, thanks for your work and your challege to speak up. Sometimes the work takes us to the limit, but it’s important that we share a snapshot of Main Street with those who will take our words to heart.


We’re always eager to provide space in this forum for hunger fighters who would offer their perspective.  We’ll gladly link back to your own online space should you do so.


Processing Food for Hunger Relief

by Ed Nicholson

The Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee (Nashville) has a unique USDA-inspected food processing facility in their food bank that produces "boil in the bag" food for hunger and disaster relief.

In addition to producing for their own agencies–food pantries, backpack programs, etc.–they also produce for other Feeding America food banks around the country.

Scott Burleson, director of manufacturing for the food bank, describes the operation in the video above.

This is a great example of innovative solutions being applied to ongoing challenges.

Hunger in America–The Battle Intensifies

By Ed Nicholson

Beth Kanter pointed us to this very well-written article by David Cay Johnston in the New York Times discussing the state of hunger in America today, which states the obvious for those involved the fight:  Hunger relief organizations are seeing exponential growth in demand due to a struggling economy, at the same time resources are shrinking. 

"What makes the demand so striking this year is not only the suddenness but also the demographic that is seeking help. Most of the newcomers have been employed and have managed to survive dips in the job market. Many of them are couples and single parents who… had [previously] managed without handouts."

And on the supply side, improvements in inventory and quality control by donor companies have reduced available product, while, "Surplus production is often sold to overseas markets at a discount that brings food manufacturers more than the value of the tax deduction of a charitable donation, food bank managers across the country said in interviews." 

Times are tough.  If you can afford it, donate to your local food bank.