Some opportunities that are arising at the Vermont Foodbank have got me thinking about food banking’s changing business model. The historic model is morphing. Donations of food from many sources are decreasing as businesses (food manufacturers and retailers) get more efficient and effective in running their operations, resulting in less “waste.” The slowing economy also means less rescued food from restaurants and catering.
Meanwhile, food banks find themselves competing with the secondary food markets (discount outlets, dollar stores, etc.) for the food that used to come in as donations. Donations are also less diverse – lots of beverage, not enough protein. Thankfully government commodities are increasing, but for how long? In Vermont we find ourselves purchasing more food for distribution, filling in the gaps to ensure a balanced and nutritious food mix for the agencies we supply. And the need keeps increasing.
So how do we think about the goal of “ending hunger in Vermont?” What other business models are out there? The need is constant and keeps growing. Some of the people who patronize food shelves and meal sites are seeking supplemental sources of food, not just temporary emergency food assistance. The federal Commodity Supplemental Food Program provides a monthly box of staples for the pantries of income-eligible seniors. In very rural areas distribution is expensive and difficult, but we need to find ways to supplement the diets of everyone who needs help, not just seniors. How can we do this in a way that gives people food choice, while dealing with the reality that we don’t know what food in coming in from one month to the next? Solutions will have to involve creative partnerships and throwing away old assumptions about how things “should” be done.
After all, what better way to build a stronger society than to make sure each person has the opportunity to transform his or her life?