Food Banks, Pantries Innovate to Serve More

December 16, 2013

With one in six Americans facing hunger every day, food banks, pantries and other groups are implementing innovative solutions to common problems that help them serve their communities like never before.

In Burlington, Vt., Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf director Rob Meehan believes there’s much more that they can do.

“We’re scratching the surface on how to reinvent charitable food service,” Meehan said.

In Burlington, the Food Shelf offers several services to its community, including its flagship food shelf program, soup kitchen and homebound grocery delivery program. The Food Shelf also works with local supermarkets to deliver prepared food to several agencies and feeding programs.

“We’re trying to rescue food that would otherwise be wasted,” Meehan said.

The Food Shelf has also had great success with providing ready-made items to its community. These items, ranging from macaroni and cheese to Shepherd’s pie, are produced on site and fly off the shelves.

Around the nation, other organizations are discovering innovative ways to help their communities, too. Here’s a quick look at some of them:

  • In Northeast Tennessee, Second Harvest Food Bank uses a vacuum-packing machine to test if there are cracks in dented and crushed cans. Previously, all damaged cans would be thrown out, but now if tested cans prove to be still fully sealed, they can be donated. Second Harvest also connects with restaurants, caterers, grocery stores and other vendors to collect and distribute perishable food. One way they do this is through their Mobile Food Pantry service.
  • Meanwhile, a culinary team at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee uses technology that allows them to cook and then flash-freeze meals that can be donated and reheated up to a year later.
  • On the other side of the country, the Oregon Food Bank has developed a program that has led to partnerships between farmers and emergency food providers, farm-to-school partnerships, and new and expanded farmers markets. This program has been key to creating stronger, more connected communities.

There are ways you can help, too. For example, the next time you donate to a food drive, consider bringing a gallon of milk. Milk is a delicious and nutritious bargain buy, and while it’s commonly requested at food banks, it only makes up a small percentage of all of the foods distributed. It’s a small step that can help make a difference in your community.


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