My Visit to the Local Food Bank to Learn About How to Feed the Hungry

So where do you turn when you are hungry and can’t afford to feed yourself or your family? Maybe a food bank is something to investigate.

This morning I had the pleasure of visiting the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina in Raleigh. Christy, an exuberant representative, gave me the grand tour of the facility and helped me to better understand the modern face of hunger.

Food Bank

“There are definitely more middle class families turning to us for help in this economy”, she said. Maybe you, like me, only thought of those most desperate, in need of food to feed a hungry stomach. But with the current economy, more and more people are asking for desperate help to squelch their hunger.

I was surprised to learn about the different places that food comes from. Some of it is directly donated by manufacturers, the Raleigh facility has a good relationship with a pickle manufacturer. You can tell, pickles reside on a lot of shelves. But one program I did not know about that distributes food through the Food Bank is The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). The TEFAP program is the grown up cousin of the cheese distribution program I remember as a kid. Maybe you are old enough to remember those five pound blocks of cheese given out to senior citizens, thirty years ago. Did that stuff ever melt?

TEFAP brings in food that is purchased from manufacturers for distribution to the hungry, through the Food Bank. Today the shelves had plenty on them but the food comes in to the central warehouse and out again so fast that the stock will be depleted quickly.

While we’ve heard the stories of empty shelves in the local food banks, the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina is working hard to keep the shelves stocked. But while donations have remained at previous levels, demand for food from hungry people from all walks of life has increased by 60%

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Food Bank

The way the Food Bank works is that donations of food, time and money are received by the central Food Bank and they in turn manage the resources and distribute food to individuals, families and children through their long reach of member agencies who directly interface with the recipients of food and services. These agencies that help to distribute food often send it to meals on wheels programs, soup kitchens, food pantries, shelters, senior centers and daycare facilities. But for others the distributing agency may be the local church.

While local groups can come directly to the warehouse and pick up their ration of food to distribute, 40% of the food is trucked out to regional distribution centers for distribution to agencies.

Volunteers show up with pickup trucks and vans to load their alloted measure of available food products. All items are weighed as they get ready to head out the door.

Food Bank

Once all the items are selected from the available shelves, refrigerator or freezer, they are hauled to the scales where they are placed on the scale for measurement and then all eyes turn toward the readout. The scale becomes the most important tool in the warehouse. Agencies always want more but the Food Bank has to work to control they don’t take too much so there is food for the next agency to come and collect.

Food Bank

This Food Bank, which is one of many around the country, services 34 counties and works with about 900 local agencies to distribute nearly 3 million pounds of food per year. And food banks just don’t work with local residents. During the Hurricane Katrina mess the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina sent nine large trucks full of food to help the victims.

Food Banks exist all of the country and are a source of free food for those in need. If you can’t afford to properly supply food for your family, search for the food bank in your metropolitan area or state. The food bank should be able to connect you with the nearest member agency to help you get access to free food. If you can’t afford to put food on the table, don’t hesitate to reach out for help and ask for it.

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Getting food from a participating agency might be a bit of a hassle, who knows, but keep asking for help till you get the allotment of food waiting for you to provide nourishment when you need it most.

Food Bank

If we work together we can help stop hunger in America. If you want to assist your local food bank, consider giving donations of food, money or your time. The Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina had the equivalent of 58 full time employee hours time donated by volunteer workers last year. These workers came in and sorted donated food products, repackaged large bulk donations and helped in many other ways.

If you wanted to assist the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina, please visit their donation page and provide a generous gift if you can.

Photos by Steve Rhode

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