How Food Banks Work

What's a Food Bank?

Food banks are distribution facilities that warehouse, repackage and distribute contributed food to member organizations and charities. They receive food from a number of national and local sources. Although they rely heavily on surplus food donated in large quantities, local food drives and individual donations are important, too:

  • USDA commodities - Every year the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service provides 1.9 billion pounds of food to stock part of the National School Lunch Program and provide food to the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) that allocates food to state and local agencies for distributions through food banks or to feeding sites like soup kitchens and homeless shelters.
  • Large donations - Food banks solicit and rely on large donations from local and national businesses and nonprofit organizations. These are often in the form of surpluses from food manufacturers, retailers and growers. They include items like unsold bread and produce and manufacturing production overruns.
  • Other donations - Local businesses, faith-based charities, state government resources and sometimes other food banks with overages provide food, too. Donations also come from people like you through walk-ins or from food drives where you shop, work or worship.

Now that we know what a food bank is and where the food comes from, let's take a look at how food banks distribute the bounty.