America’s Second Harvest acts as an umbrella organization for over 200 food banks all over the United States, distributing over two billion pounds of food to needy people each year. The member food banks in turn work with local charities and community organizations to distribute food to people in need, particularly children and the elderly.
A key strategy behind the concept of a food bank is to prevent food being wasted. The organization estimates that out of the 96 billion pounds of food wasted in the United States each year, between five and ten billion pounds, subject to quality standards, could be diverted to help those in need. Restaurants, groceries and individuals donate unwanted food products; corporations, concerned citizens, and government agencies donate money. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is a major participant, funneling large quantities of surplus food products into the anti-hunger system.
The local food banks pick up, sort, store, warehouse, and deliver the food to school nutrition programs for children, home meal delivery programs for seniors, and to meal centers and food distribution outlets in both urban and rural areas. In addition to donating food and funds, volunteers help with most logistical and distribution activities. Food donation programs occur all year long, but are particularly prominent during the December holiday season leading up to Christmas. Food markets cooperate with the food drives, even highlighting certain products suitable for donation. In one town, a group of state police held a “Stuff the Cruiser” food event in front of the local supermarket; the drive lasted until the three police cars could no longer accommodate further donations.
Most food banks, and indeed most other organizations dedicating to dealing with hunger issues, are members of state, county and local associations that help coordinate these activities. Religious and community organizations—even in neighborhoods that do not seem at first glance to have hunger and poverty issues—operate food distribution pantries and weekly, or even daily, meals for those in need, especially in winter. The anti-hunger network in the United States is vast, but so is the problem. Rural areas present particular difficulties. Pride, or even plain lack of communication, can result in hunger in the face of abundant resources.