Report from the Field:

Steady and Strong Growth at Central American Food Banks

By: Chris Rebstock, Senior Vice President of Network Development

I recently traveled to Central America to help support food bank development and expansion in Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Guatemala. My mission: look, listen and learn, and provide GFN support to help food bank leaders in these countries expand operations to feed the hungry and increase impact.

Guatemala

It’s a great experience to witness the evolution of food banking in a country, so I was really excited to have the opportunity to return to Guatemala after several years to work with the leaders of Banco de Alimentos de Guatemala (BAG) to recertify the food bank. BAG has been a member of GFN since 2010. The six-year-old food bank – headquartered in Guatemala City – is in expansion mode.  Last year, BAG launched a second operation in in the town of Quetzaltenango, the second largest city in Guatemala. There, the food bank has established a warehouse to distribute food to local agencies throughout several communities in the western part of the country. Plans are under development for the establishment of a third operation to target the eastern part of the country.

One of the highlights of my trip was a meeting of the food bank’s board of directors in which Lucy Lainfiesta, Guatemala’s Minister of Social Development, and Luis Enrique Monterroso, the Secretary of Food and Nutrition Security participated. The meeting provided an opportunity to discuss ways government can help support the growth of food banking in Guatemala. Ms. Lainfiesta expressed her openness to investigate ways to integrate government and civil society efforts to address the serious problem of hunger and malnutrition in Guatemala. Food banking works best when it utilizes resources from all three sectors of society - private, government and civil society - so this was an important step in the right direction for food banking in this country.

A major challenge in Guatemala is the lack of food processing, manufacturing and cold chain. For further growth, the food bank will need to find resources to create cold chain for all stages of the food banking distribution infrastructure - from the food bank warehouses and trucks to the agencies to the families they feed. This will enable the food bank to accept donations of perishable foods, which are widely available in the form of fresh produce, as well as some packaged goods.

Finally, and most gratifying for me, I had the opportunity to visit several of the wonderful beneficiary institutions that receive food from the food bank - schools that provide opportunities to underprivileged children, a private orphanage that serves children who might otherwise get lost in the system, and a community organization that provides food, other resources, and hope to residents in a very poor area of Guatemala City. The unifying quality of each of these organizations is hope and optimism. They represent committed individuals who do incredible work with far too few resources. They, along with our good friends at Banco de Alimentos de Guatemala, inspire us to do our best at finding ways to help them do their work.

Chris with Food Bank Costa Rica Staff
Chris Rebstock (left) pictured with food bank staff in Costa Rica and executives from Griffith Laboratories who presented the food bank with a $6,000 donation check.

Costa Rica

Banco de Alimentos, the food bank in Costa Rica, opened less than one year ago, and I’m happy to report, it’s progressing at a rapid pace. It’s already outgrown one building and will move to an even larger structure in 2013. The food bank is expanding both its resource base and the number of beneficiary institutions it serves, and ultimately, the number of people it helps. As would be expected, the food bank needs funds and other resources to enhance its capacity for accepting, handling, and distributing both shelf stable and perishable products.

El Salvador

There is plenty of great news to report from El Salvador. The food bank planning team, comprised of representatives from Walmart, Rayovac, Unilever, American Chamber of Commerce and others, has hired a general manager who is charged with finding a warehouse, a truck, and operating funds. The general response of the companies and NGOs that the planning team has met with is positive, and indications are that a viable food bank is likely. We have extended an invitation for the new general manager to join us at the Food Bank Leadership Institute in March, 2013 for further training and an opportunity to learn from other food bank leaders around the world.

Food Bank Development in Central America

One year ago, Guatemala was the only country in Central America with a food banking system. Today, food banks are operational in Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Nicaragua, while El Salvador is on the path to opening their first food bank. GFN congratulates our good friends in each of these countries for their commitment, creativity, and strong resolve to eliminate food waste and feed hungry and malnourished people. We are proud to be associated with the teams in each of these countries and look forward to having the group together at the Food Bank Leadership Institute in March.

Explore and learn more about food banks throughout Latin America using our Find a Food Bank map.

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