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.
Food banks provide many benefits to the communities in which they operate, but there’s one benefit that often goes underrecognized: their ability to strengthen other local organizations that provide social protections. Social protections are 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 them, 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 social protection when government services are unavailable. In addition to providing specialized services such as housing, employment, and education, many of these organizations may also provide much-needed food for the communities they serve, even though they may not be dedicated hunger relief organizations. And while these food services are enormously helpful, they can sometimes cost 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. As experts in food sourcing and distribution, food banks can provide high-quality food efficiently and effectively. They can also provide budget-relieving support when supplementing or taking over food provision so that civil society organizations can focus more of their budgets and staff time on expanding specialized services to chronically underserved populations. Such support, which significantly strengthens the impact of these organizations, can be life changing. Take, for example, the case of FoodForward South Africa, a national food bank system and member of The Global FoodBanking Network. In South Africa’s Eastern Cape province, FoodForward SA partners with the Ray Mhlaba Skills Centre, which provides vulnerable youth with the skills and knowledge necessary they need to obtain jobs or start businesses. Many people initially come to the Ray Mhlaba Skills Centre because hot meals are regularly provided there. 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 provided. 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. Similarly in the UK, GFN member FareShare distributes food to more than 10,000 organizations like homeless shelters, family support and children’s centers, and drug rehabilitation programs. Nearly 10 percent of those agencies reported that without FareShare’s support, they would likely have to shut down operations. But with FareShare freeing up about £19 million for their partners’ budgets each year, these civil society organizations can invest more in the services that help communities across the UK build resilience in the face of adverse situations. When food banks are present and active in a community, they support the entire social safety net, providing crucial budget relief to other local nonprofits. This results in more resilient communities where social services are more accessible, effective, and sustainable. Strengthening civil society is a central tenant of the food bank model because we recognize that we make greater progress when we stand shoulder-to-shoulder to save lives and build thriving communities.