New food bank makes impressive progress

BOA 11-24 005

Florida Times-Union Editorial July 7, 2015
While it is an undeniably challenging and complex one, the mission of a food bank should be fairly simple and straightforward:
Step 1: Gather as much food as possible.
Step 2: Distribute it to as many needy people as possible.
Step 3: Keep doing steps “1” and “2.”
During the past year, Feeding Northeast Florida has done this in truly admirable fashion.
Since June 2014, it has:
■ Gathered 18.6 million pounds of food.
■ Distributed the equivalent of 14.7 million meals.
■ Established a network of 176 churches, food pantries and various social services agencies across its 17-county region that distributes food in diverse and creative ways, including the use of mobile units.
■ Created a “Fast, Fresh and Free” business model that has dramatically increased the quantities of fresh vegetables and fruits distributed to families.
■ Developed a system so focused on minimizing food waste that its “throw away” percentage is less than 5 percent; the national average for food banks is 10 percent.
■ Taken such an intense approach to eliminating hunger that it has created a pet food bank so hungry people aren’t forced to share meals with their pets.
Here’s what’s impressive: Feeding Northeast Florida accomplished it while building an operation from scratch after taking over this region’s food bank responsibilities from Second Harvest North Florida last summer.
“We’ve made great strides,” Bruce Ganger, the nonprofit’s CEO, recently told the Times-Union editorial board.
“We know where the food is,” Ganger added. “We know where the hungry people are. Now it’s a matter of continuing to (execute) the plan to feed more people efficiently and quickly.”

MORE COMMUNITY SUPPORT

To achieve that, Feeding Northeast Florida has set an ambitious goal.
During its first year, the nonprofit distributed more than 17 million pounds of food. But it eventually wants to increase that annual figure to 40 million pounds.
Yes, it is a daunting target.
But it’s one that Ganger said Feeding Northeast Florida can reach with just a little more support from across our region.
“The community has been very responsive already,” Ganger said.
“(But) with a little more investment and support, we can get to 40 million (pounds) pretty quickly. We’ve built a process for distributing food that works. So we can show the community that it gets a real return on its investment.”

MORE OUTREACH PLANNED

Ganger said the nonprofit is particularly keen on doing more outreach to help local families of military personnel; growing numbers of them, largely in the Mayport area, are struggling to secure consistent access to nutritious food.
“There is a lot of hunger in (Mayport),” Ganger said.
And greater community support would also enable Feeding Northeast Florida to broaden its partnership with regional library systems to help poor children who struggle to eat well.
Currently, Feeding Northeast Florida and the library system work together to provide snack packs of nutritious food to children — kids who are being dropped off daily at libraries during the summer because those locations represent safe havens from the streets.
“There are so many in this community who count on us,” Ganger said.
Feeding Northeast Florida is doing great work that shouldn’t merely be maintained.
It should be actively expanded.
And to meet that responsibility, Feeding Northeast Florida deserves more backing from our community.

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