Fighting Hunger, Feeding Hope with The Global FoodBanking Network

Fighting Hunger, Feeding Hope with The Global FoodBanking Network
By: Al Brislain, President and CEO, Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida

I was invited to speak to the Global Food Bank Network’s Leadership Institute. More than 70 people attended, representing more than 30 countries, including Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, India, France, Italy, Poland, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Bulgaria, Russia, Israel, Dubai, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Canada, the U.S., Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Paraguay. The countries represented a wide spectrum of food bank development. Europe and the U.S. have established networks of more than 200 food banks each. Others, such as Paraguay and Bulgaria, have only one fledgling food bank. It was amazing to sit in a room and listen to the different representatives talk about their challenges, opportunities, and their commitment to fighting hunger (and food waste) in each of their countries.

I did a workshop with Tim Knowlton (Kellogg’s, retired) on the evolution of food banking. I talked about how food banks spread from one food bank founded by John van Hengel in Phoenix, Arizona, to a national network and an international movement. The attendees were very interested in John and how the movement evolved. Tim gave a presentation on how the relationship with the food industry evolved during his 30 years as a community affairs executive with Kellogg’s.

I also came away from the conference with these observations:

1.                The Harry Chapin Food Bank hosted representatives from Russia and Mexico last fall. Most of those representatives were at the conference and were effusive in their gratitude to our staff (especially our Operations Director Neal McAlister) for sharing expertise and for spending so much time with them.

2.                Kellogg’s has adopted an international initiative to develop breakfast programs, primarily in third-world countries. There were a number of food banks that were very excited to be implementing such a program, as many do not have school meal programs. 

3.                Many of the food banks attending the conference believe they have a dual mission- first, to feed hungry counties, but almost as importantly, to fight food waste. It was interesting to hear the Egyptian Food Bank share the fact that they talked restaurants into reducing their plate size from 32 cm to 27 cm. According to them, that simple change resulted on reducing plate waste by 20%.

4.                The need in some of the countries is incredible. Lebanon had a population of 4 million. Now they are trying to cope with 2 million more people, almost all of whom are refugees from Syria. Fifty percent of Guatemalan infants are chronically malnourished, and 32 percent of the Colombian population is in poverty. 

5.                It is required of Muslims (at least in Egypt) that they donate meat to the poor during Ramadan. The food bank in Cairo has a very large program whereby people donate money to can meat (beef and lamb) for the poor. The program produces millions of cans of meat.

There was some discussion about the future of food banking. There is a clear disconnect between those food banks in the “developed,” world where perishable food is the trend and most everyone has a refrigerator, and those food banks serving people who have nothing but a tin shed and the clothes they sleep in.  

The GFN is very different than Feeding America, in that their job is to help food banks get started and, almost as importantly, help national networks develop. The networks take on the Feeding America role of establishing standards and developing food industry support. It seems to work quite well.

Al Brislain
President and CEO

Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida

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