Food bank

Food bank
Volunteers pass out food items from a Feeding America food bank

A food bank or foodbank is a non-profit, charitable organization that distributes mostly donated food to a wide variety of agencies that in turn feed the hungry. The largest sources of food are for-profit growers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers who in the normal course of business have excess food that they cannot sell. There is considerable overlap with food salvage, food rescue and gleaning although not with freeganism or dumpster-diving.

After sorting and inventory, a food bank distributes the food to non-profit community or government agencies, including but not limited to food pantries, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, orphanages, and schools.


Standard model

With thousands of food banks on six continents there are many different models. However there are some elements that food banks share.

There is typically one food bank in a city which runs a centralized warehouse. Like a blood bank, that warehouse serves as a single collection and distribution point for food donations. A food bank operates a lot like a for-profit food distributor, but in this case it distributes food to charities not to food retailers.

The largest portion of donated food comes from food leftover from the normal processes of for-profit companies. This food can come from any part of the food chain, e.g. from growers who have produced too much or whose food is not visual appealing enough, from manufacturers who overproduced, or from retailers who over-ordered. Often the product is approaching or past its "expiration", "sell by" or "best by" date. In such cases, the foodbank works with food industry and regulators to make sure the food is safe and legal to distribute and eat.

Other sources of food include the general public in the form of food drives and government programs that buy and distribute excess farm products mostly to help support higher commodity prices. Food banks can also buy food either at market prices or from wholesalers and retailers at discounted prices, often at cost.

The food is then distributed to food aid agencies which could be private or public, religious or secular. The type and nature of the recipient agency varies depending upon the policies of the food bank, the nature of their community, and the laws of where they operate.

Food banks operate on six continents in every region of the world.


The world's first food bank was the St. Mary's Food Bank Alliance in Arizona, begun in 1967.

In 1965 John van Hengel while volunteering for a community dining room learned that grocery stores disposed of food that had damaged packaging or was near expiration. He started collecting that food for the dining room but soon had too much for that one program. He thought of creating a central location from which any agency can receive donations. With the help of St. Mary's Basilica, the first food bank was born.[1]

Food banks quickly spread across the United States. By 1976, the precursor to Feeding America was established. Their network of 200+ foodbanks provides support for 90,000 projects. Other large networks exist such as Ample Harvest which lists some 33,000 food pantries that can utilise overproduction of fresh produce.

UK foodbanks

In the UK the foodbank concept has grown enormously in recent years. Salisbury-based charity The Trussell Trust co-ordinates over 130 of the UK's foodbanks, using churches to collect the majority of their donated dry goods food; supermarket-drives collect about 1/3 of their donated food. The charity suggests that the credit crunch has led to an upsurge in the number of people needing emergency food and led to more than one new foodbank being opened every week in 2011. Trussell Trust aim to support people for the short time while the system has not caught up with their problems, what their literature calls 'falling into the cracks in the system'. The Trussell system is for those in need to be referred by qualified outside agencies.

South Africa

Formed in 2009, FoodBank South Africa (FoodBank SA) is South Africa's national foodbanking network and a member of the Global Foodbanking Network. FoodBank SA's vision is "A South Africa without hunger and malnutrition". [2]


Since the 1980s foodbanking has spread around the world. There are over 20 countries with active foodbank groups under the unbrella of the Global Foodbanking Network. [3]

See also


External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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