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The disgraceful state of “food insecurity” in America

I recently spoke in Chicago before the Feeding America annual conference. Feeding America is the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief charity, with more than 200 member food banks serving all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Joining me to talk about the importance of transparency and accountability in our demanding world were Art Taylor from the BBB Wise Giving Alliance and Ken Berger of Charity Navigator. The local member food bank staffers were attentive and truly concerned about providing the appropriate data to meet donor expectations. By the way, unlike many nonprofit organizations, the food banks unanimously told me that their fundraising is up so far this year. That’s good to hear.

The event gave me an opportunity to learn more about my hosts. According to Janet Gibbs, Feeding America’s Chief Financial Officer, will deliver more than 3 billion pounds of food and groceries this year. The national organization sets quality standards and acts as an interconnection system for donations of food and money. The actual delivery of food to hungry Americans occurs through the local food bank, or partner food bank agencies, like soup kitchen and pantries, which are all separate organizations with local boards and staffs. The relationship between many nonprofit national headquarters and the local affiliates are frequently a point of tension. A well known national brand dependent on local delivery often leads to uneven quality of services. Feeding America has dealt with this by trying to clearly identify where both the national and local organizations add value. Here is a chart from their website:

Securing Food

Local Role: Secure food from local manufacturers, retailers, farmers and government sources.

National Role: Secure food from large corporate manufacturers and retailers through nationwide initiatives and facilitate the acquisition of government-supplied
food.

Raising Funds

Local Role: Acquire funding from local corporate, foundation and individual donors, and utilize those funds efficiently to maximize service to people in need.

National Role: Acquire funding from corporate, foundation and individual donors, and provide those funds as seed money to spur local innovation.

Distributing Food

Local Role: Distribute food received from Feeding America and local sources to people in need, via a local system of agencies.

National Role: Through a robust logistics system, distribute food donations received nationally to the food banks that need them the most.

Sharing Best Practices

Local Role: Share wisdom with other network members and uphold the highest standards for food safety, fiscal responsibility and efficiency.

National Role: Inspire members to implement proven programs and uphold the highest standards for food safety, fiscal responsibility and efficiency.

Advocating and Inspiring

Local Role: Create a local movement and a sense of compassionate urgency, encouraging better government programs and inspiring individuals to take action.

National Role: Create a national movement and a sense of compassionate urgency, encouraging better government programs and inspiring individuals to take action.

The fact that anyone in the United States one of the richest country’s ever to exist on this planet, should lack access to food is a national disgrace. It’s something that personally troubles me greatly. Yet, according to Feeding America, one of out every six Americans is considered food insecure, meaning they live at risk of hunger. Only about 10 percent of Feeding America’s clients are homeless and over a third have at least one working adult in their household. According to USDA, 17 million children live in “food insecure” households.

As a society, we should be doing better. Americans can help end hunger by donating, advocating and volunteering. To find out more about Feeding America, visit www.feedingamerica.org. For more about nonprofits working on nutrition and health, visit our Take Action page, which comes equipped with expert reviews from Philanthropedia: http://takeaction.guidestar.org/Causes.aspx?cause=Childhood%20Nutrition%20Health%20%28U.S.%29.

Topics: Nonprofit Leadership and Practice