Food banks are successful because they are rooted in, responsive to, and respectful of local contexts. With local leaders in the driver’s seat, this efficient model increases food access and fills gaps when social protections are lacking or absent.
Social protection consists of services, systems, or organizations—such as job training, affordable medical care, or senior centers—that help people prevent, manage, and overcome adverse situations or crises. Governments may provide these services in some countries, but they’re not always sufficient: Half of the world still lives without social protections, perpetuating the cycle of hunger and poverty.
This is where nongovernmental organizations, nonprofits, and social service agencies come in. They can help fill the gaps, providing assistance when government services are unavailable. As community-led organizations, food banks help make those organizations and agencies even stronger, while calling for strong social protection systems in the communities where they serve.
Food banks often work through partner organizations, such as schools, food pantries, community kitchens, or shelters. While these organizations are not always dedicated hunger relief organizations, they may provide much-needed food for their communities alongside specialized services such as housing, employment, or education.
The food services provided by these local organizations and agencies are often enormously helpful; however, they can account for up to 30 percent of an agency’s budget, diverting already slim financial and staff resources from the services the organization is primarily designed to provide.
Enter: food banks. With expertise in food sourcing and distribution, food banks can:
In South Africa’s Eastern Cape province, GFN member FoodForward SA partners with the Ray Mhlaba Skills Centre, which provides vulnerable youth with the skills and knowledge they need to obtain jobs or start businesses. Many people initially come to the Ray Mhlaba Skills Centre because of the hot meals the center regularly provides . The partnership with FoodForward SA significantly reduces the time and money the Ray Mhlaba Skills Centre spends on food, enabling more resources to be spent on delivering vocational programs in hospitality, woodwork, home-based caregiving, and early childhood development. According to Centre staff, working with FoodForward has also improved the quality and variety of food they are able to provide.
FoodForward SA supports 1,500 community agencies like Ray Mhlaba Skills Centre across the country, in many cases allowing civil society organizations to reach as many as 20 percent more people through their social services. In a recent study, 88 percent of those agencies reported that they would have to adjust or stop their food programs if they didn’t receive support from FoodForward SA. By partnering with agencies in this way, a food bank’s impact multiplies, efficiently spreading throughout the community.