Fifteen years ago, The Global FoodBanking Network was created to ensure that people around the world have access to food. The mission was simple: launch, strengthen, and sustain a global network of local food banks to support communities when they need it most. This mission still guides us today.
Innovate to Alleviate celebrates our 15th anniversary by highlighting 15 unique innovations—game-changing approaches and adaptations from GFN and member food banks that make hunger alleviation efforts more efficient, effective, and inclusive. Kicking off on International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste and concluding on World Food Day, this campaign demonstrates how food banks are an important component to solving hunger that are rooted in the communities they serve and essential to resilient food systems.
As The Global FoodBanking Network commemorates its 15-year anniversary through our Innovate to Alleviate campaign, we’re reflecting on one of the most important aspects of our work: reaching vulnerable populations. One of the cornerstones of a food bank’s work is responding to the needs of people who are often overlooked or underserved, such as refugees and internally displaced persons, Indigenous peoples, informal workers, rural and geographically isolated communities, and women and girls. When people are marginalized, discriminated against, and excluded from economic participation, government support, or social services, one of the many dire consequences is that basic needs—like daily meals—are left unmet. Food banks can help meet these needs by providing food relief and other services in partnership with local leaders and community organizations. In Turkey, for example, an essential but often unmet need in many communities is providing food to those displaced from conflict, such as the millions of refugees who fled to the country due to the civil war in Syria. Many Syrians in Turkey struggle with food insecurity, since they are unable to obtain work permits in the country and end up taking on informal jobs for low wages. The COVID-19 pandemic limited economic opportunities further, leaving many unemployed and intensifying the situation. GFN member TIDER, a Turkish organization committed to ensuring people living below the poverty line can first access basic needs and then find dignified work, is helping to fill this gap by providing funding and technical assistance to food banks throughout the country. TIDER’s support helped the Refugees Association establish a food bank in Istanbul’s Sultanbeyli Municipality, where many refugees and migrants live. Now, more than 8,000 people have accessed the Refugees Association Food Bank, and 90 percent are Syrian, underscoring the importance of a local, community-based organization that can meet their needs. Another TIDER partner, the Metropolitan Food Bank in Gaziantep, is about 35 miles from both Syria’s border and Turkey’s second-largest refugee camp, and since the crisis in Syria began, staff members have put a particular emphasis on increasing capacity to store and distribute food. Currently, Gaziantep Municipality Food Bank is serving 34,000 people, and they are planning to open a new food bank specifically to serve the area’s refugee community. Food bank organizations like TIDER have successfully adapted their programs to best serve their neighbors based on the context of local needs, allowing them to make meaningful strides in alleviating hunger. A further example of the important role food banks play in responding to their communities’ needs is Desarrollo en Movimiento (DEM) Guatemala, which partners with more than 100 community organizations to provide culturally appropriate hot meals and food kits to vulnerable populations, including some of the country’s Indigenous groups. Worldwide, Indigenous peoples are nearly three times as likely to be living in extreme poverty compared to their non-Indigenous counterparts due to exclusion and marginalization. In Guatemalan departments of Chimaltenango and Alta Verapaz, DEM serves communities that predominantly belong to Indigenous Maya groups like the K’iche’ or Q’eqchi. After conversations with the communities, DEM provides school meals and food kits that are custom-made to meet specific cultural and dietary needs. Food bank employees also go through training that focuses on the history of Indigenous peoples in the country to learn about the unique cultures of the different populations served by the organization. “Indigenous communities have been through a lot in Guatemala,” said Juan Pablo Ruano Vargas, project manager for DEM Guatemala. “The main challenge we have in working with Indigenous communities is trying to overcome their mistrust of [people outside their community]. That’s why we have to work with community leaders. You have to build a relationship so that they can know what they can expect from you.” TIDER and DEM are just a couple of examples of organizations that are making an enormous impact. Because they are deeply rooted in and respectful of the communities where they work, they are able to effectively support vulnerable populations through sustainable and culturally relevant solutions to hunger, making sustainable progress in reducing one of our world’s most pressing problems.