4 Takeaways from Fast Company’s article calling out Food Banks

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By: Steven Williams, Operations Manager 

Several friends and colleagues brought to my attention an article published recently on Fast Company, titled “Can food banks put an end to hunger if their biggest donors are the cause of the hunger?” If you’ve ever had a conversation with me, you would know how unapologetically passionate I am. It took time to craft my thoughts, but I kept it to a list.

This is an actual problem.

The problem raised in the article is true. It is a challenge to criticize funders at the jeopardy of losing funding. How can one address immediate needs, while turning to prevention—especially if prevention remedies are at odds with a funder? This happens far too often—conflict of interest between a funder and a nonprofit that slows progress and change. Nonprofits tackle enormous challenges and that requires a lot of resources like coordination, community-building, and infrastructure. It took time and funding to create “a sophisticated network of food banks and pantries” that feeds 46 million people a year. Now it’s time to begin looking upstream to prevention, but what needs to be done makes funders uncomfortable. We need to move past being uncomfortable and start having honest and frank conversation about how we prevent poverty from occurring in the first place.

There is a difference between food banks and food pantries.

What a great opportunity for a quick lesson. Having worked at both, I know the two are commonly confused. A food bank is a warehouse and distribution facility that sources, aggregates, and transports food to partner agencies. A food pantry provides direct service to people in a community who need food. This is very similar to the difference between a wholesaler and a grocery store. Simply put, food banks provide food to pantries and pantries feed their communities.

It takes a community to end hunger.

The author assumes that food banks have the sole responsibility of ending hunger. This is unrealistic and naive. As described at the beginning of the article, the emergency food system is designed to provide hunger relief. Poverty is far too big of a challenge to be solved with one approach. A complex issue like hunger needs to be addressed from many different angles. As we continue to meet immediate needs, we need to look at the root causes of hunger. Our community should invest in nonprofits that provide opportunities for Iowans to thrive—job training and placement, health care access, affordable housing, mental health, etc. There is so much great work being done by nonprofits in Central Iowa doing just that. We need to elevate their work and connect them to hunger relief .  

Feeding America should be bold and actually end poverty.

From my vantage point, Feeding America has the ideal stage to make a commitment to ending poverty in the United States. They provide positive benefits to the large food companies Peter refers to in the article with PR, tax write-offs, and reduced costs of waste removal. Feeding America needs to leverage these and shift the narrative away from donors deciding how to end hunger. We will always need the emergency food system to provide immediate relief for families and individuals, but we should and can do more to get people off the emergency food system and out of poverty.

We are lying to ourselves if we think just putting more food into a community is going to end generational poverty and food insecurity. We need to come together as a community and get real about shifting the conditions holding these problems in place.