Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

The Expanding Role of Food Banks


Photos: (Top) The warehouse at the Capital Area Food Bank. (Bottom) Sister Simone Campbell speaking at the Capital Area Food Bank Open House last week. (Eric Bond/Bread for the World)

By Sarah Godfrey

The new Capital Area Food Bank building in Washington, D.C., contains row upon row of shelving, all of it stories-high and piled with food. The building is the size of 2.5 football fields, and is the hub for distributing more than 33 million pounds of food to hungry people each year—and demand is growing.

The food bank, which has served the D.C. area for more than 30 years, held an open house last week to unveil its state-of-the-art facility, which has been operational since July. At the event, Lynn Brantley, president and CEO of the Capital Area Food Bank said we must "let the community be a catalyst to change the way we think about hunger and poverty." That sentiment seems to be behind every element of the new food bank, which includes not just a larger building with a greater capacity for getting food to people who need it, but expanded education, outreach, and advocacy programs as well. The community needs more than bags of groceries, and the Capital Area Food Bank is responding to that need.

CAFB joins several other food banks across the country in a trend toward super-sized, state-of-the-art facilities. The Houston Food Bank moved to an enormous, renovated Sysco Foods distribution center last year. The Greater Boston Food Bank made a similar move into a 117,000 square foot modern facility in 2009.

Food banks are instrumental in feeding millions of people each day, but they can't address hunger alone. People need services as much as they need actual sustenance. Through the Capital Area Food Bank, and similar facilities across the country, clients can receive cooking instruction and help applying for benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP, formerly food stamps) and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). The facility represents the future of food-banking, and its forward-thinking model is needed now more than ever before.


These expanded services were on full display at the open house. Clients wondering how to cook delicious, healthy meals with food bank items (or limited SNAP allotments) can take a class in a modern education kitchen. At the event, local celebrity chefs whipped together meals using items from the pantry, as well as produce, meats, and herbs also available to those who visit the facility. Grace Lichaa of Food Network show Chopped hosted the contest, which she said was reflective of the "daily challenges the clients we serve face every day."

The food bank is connected with a farm, and is planting a garden, in order to get more fresh produce--which can be prohibitively expensive for SNAP recipients, and is difficult to store at food banks—into the hands of hungry people. A garden has been planted on the campus, as have fruit trees.

At the open house event, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, said that "in the richest region in the country, where hunger abounds" that the facility was "an extraordinary building that incites more food at a time when more food will be needed." She also noted the need to simultaneously rally against SNAP cuts which, at best, could "disqualify hundreds of thousands of Americans from food stamps," a comment met with many vigorous head-nods.

Sister Simone Campbell of Network also spoke, saying, "Let this building bear fruit!" It already has, and will continue to, in every sense.


Sarah Godfrey is Bread for the World's associate online editor.

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