How Does the Charitable Food System Work?

According to the UConn Rudd Center, the US food banking system, also known as the emergency food system or charitable food system, provides food at no cost to over 40 million people each year.

The system is comprised of a network of over 200 food banks, like Blue Ridge Area Food Bank (BRAFB) and over 60,000 community agencies; more than 81% of those community agencies are food pantries like LHR. A majority of US food banks belong to Feeding America, who focuses on four components to end hunger: food access, food rescue, disaster response, and hunger research. Feeding America works with food companies (including grocery chains, etc.) and farmers to supply food banks with food that would otherwise go to waste.

The food banks work regionally. They assign specific stores to direct service pantries (like LHR) in their networks for what we call “partner pick-ups”. These partner pick-ups are assigned based on data like proximity, capacity and service numbers.

LHR’s partner pick-ups are assigned by the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. We rescue food from 23 grocery and bulk item stores every week and much of the food we give comes from these partner pick-ups. Another 14% of the food we have at LHR comes from personal, corporate, or civic group food drives and donations. We also receive local fresh produce and proteins from local community farms, farmers and hunters. LHR buys from various sources using donated funds. The remaining is in the form of USDA food or food we can source from BRAFB in bulk.

LHR and the other pantries in the food bank system manage direct service in our communities, raising the money and resources it takes to run our operations, having the equipment and staffing needed to move and distribute millions of pounds of food each year. We also are required to meet food safety standards. LHR goes a step beyond food, using referral relationships with other human services agencies in our area to help people with their non-food needs.

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