By Todd Cohen
The business of feeding hungry people is becoming more businesslike.
Last month, America’s Second Harvest said it would merge with Foodchain in one of the biggest mergers of charitable groups ever.
The merger should make it easier for industry donors to contribute food to the national network of food banks and programs that collect prepared and perishable food, says Nan Griswold, executive director of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina in Winston-Salem and a member of the board of America’s Second Harvest.
The Winston-Salem food bank, one of six Second Harvest food banks in North Carolina, delivers four million to five million pounds of food a year to nearly 350 agencies in 18 counties that feed more than 82,000 people.
The group has plans of its own to strengthen its operation, including a fundraising campaign to double its freezer and cooler space, and will launch a Web site this year in an effort to broaden public awareness about its work.
“We’re a nonprofit, but we have to run it like a business,” Griswold says. “Our mission’s feeding hungry people, but we have to do it in an accountable way.”
The food bank is building on efforts in recent years to make its distribution of food more effective and efficient.
Those efforts, in turn, have come in the face of big changes in the food industry, including mergers, an increase in the marketing of frozen foods and produce, and changes in the American diet.
In 1994, for example, the group created Second Helpings, a new program to deliver prepared food in addition to canned food. In its first year, the new program delivered 60,000 pounds of prepared food.
That number has fallen to about 24,000 pounds a year, Griswold says, citing the reluctance of restaurants and other companies that prepare food to contribute it because of concerns about their potential liability for spoiled food.
Consolidating the delivery of canned and prepared food also is behind the merger of Chicago-based America’s Second Harvest, which has 190 food banks, and Kansas City, Mo.-based Foodchain, which has 140 food-rescue programs – half of which are based at Second Harvest food banks.
The Winston-Salem food bank also launched Kids Café in 1997. Thanks to funding from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, the Winston-Salem Foundation, the Winston-Salem Kiwanis Club and area churches, the food bank feeds about 250 youngsters three times a week at six sites, where the kids also receive tutoring and mentoring.
Still, the group finds it tough to keep up with the demand for food.
Since 1991, the food bank has occupied a 34,000-square-foot building funded with a capital campaign of nearly $1.4 million.
Now, the group needs another 10,000 square feet, and probably will need to raise at least $300,000.
That’s in addition to $150,000 that it is raising to double its freezer and cooler space. That year-old effort already has raised $132,000, including $72,000 from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust and $20,000 from the Richard Joshua and Marie Reynolds Foundation.
Griswold, who has been the food bank’s only executive director, says the food business has changed a lot since the group was created in 1982 and initially delivered canned food and bread.
In recent weeks, for example, students at Wake Forest University and Winston-Salem State University have been sorting through eggs for the food bank, removing broken eggs from cartons and cleaning the remaining eggs and placing them in new cartons.
“I never thought I would see the day when we would have frozen meat and eggs,” says Griswold.
The main challenge for her organization, she says, is not so much in gathering food.
“It’s the distribution of food that’s a problem in this country,” she says.