Feeding America is a network 205 food banks with a rather tall order as its mission: ending hunger in the United States. In its efforts to do that, it distributes about 2.5 billion pounds of food every year, and the number of persons dependent on it is growing. A USDA study tallied 36 million "food-insecure" Americans in 2007, says Blawat, but by 2008 that figure had increased to 49 million.
The recent economic crisis has done nothing to help things. It's made donations harder to come by, Blawat says. "It's pretty staggering what's happened, and it's pretty unprecedented."
But initiatives in the private sector to improve supply chain efficiency have haunted Feeding America as well. Traditionally, the bulk of the donations received by Blawat's organization comprised food close to code, mislabeled or which couldn't go into regular channels for some other reasons even though it was still good to consume. Trimming the fat from those supply chains has drastically reduced the donation volume on which Feeding America relied.
"That's been our single biggest challenge."
Of course, it isn't always easy to get all of the group's members in sync. "Like any franchisee knows, getting a large number of predominantly independent organizations to operate as a cohesive network, aligning that set of different entities to execute as a unit, that's difficult."
Blawat sees himself as running a national brokerage network, but with a special problem: the donation volume never creates a good nutritional mix of product for the food bank shelves each day. So two programs, one for fresh produce, the other for groceries, were implemented in an effort to alleviate that stress at the food bank level.
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