A food bank is generally defined as a charitable organization that solicits and warehouses donated food and other products. This food is then distributed to a variety of community agencies which serve people in need. In this way, a food bank fills the function of obtaining, storing, and transporting food in a coordinated way that serves an entire community or large geographic area. Many food banks provide food to hundreds of organizations in their community, who would likely not be able to obtain a steady supply of food in other ways, nor would they have the space or equipment to store enough food to meet the needs of the people they serve. While many food banks may also operate programs that distribute food directly to individuals, the primary purpose of a food bank is to help ensure an adequate flow of food through other community-based organizations.
Food banks in California are very diverse -- from small operations serving people spread out across large rural areas to very large facilities that store and distribute many millions of pounds of food each year, and everything in between. Eleven California counties have more than one food bank, and several rural counties do not have a food bank located in their county but are served by a food bank in another county.
Food banks are very efficient operations with low overhead. Due to the high levels of community involvement, a broad base of volunteers, and food industry support, food banks typically leverage many dollars in food for every dollar received. As efficient as this network is, it cannot come close to meeting the full need for food among people in need in most communities.
To better help meet that need, many food banks embrace a broader vision of their role as helping to end hunger, and many actively work in the community to educate others about hunger, help people in need connect to other programs such as SNAP (formerly food stamps), and helping to influence dietary choices for better health. California food banks are leaders in developing new programs for children, providing education on nutrition, and educating state and federal legislators on ways to eliminate hunger.
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