As we come into the end of the year, we all turn our thoughts to what has been, as well as what lies ahead. I’d like to mark an occasion that’s little remembered, if known at all. On November 14, 1979, John Van Hengel and the leaders of fewer than 30 food banks around the country incorporated to form Second Harvest, America’s very first food bank network. In the late 1960’s, John started food banking with the simple idea that we could turn what was otherwise discarded waste into meals for his neighbors. The passion and dedication of one person spawned an entire movement that has now fed millions and millions.
Across the United States, the network has grown to be able to provide meals for more than 46 million people. The collective capacity for food distribution has skyrocketed. Today, the network of food banks has grown into a more than $2 billion organization consisting of 200 food banks. Instead of 3.9 million, we now distribute 3.9 billion pounds of food to Americans facing hunger each year. Moreover, we have evolved from solely distributing food to being a leader in research and advocacy, a critical player in disaster relief and an innovator in targeted hunger programs.
Feeding America Tampa Bay has been a part of the national food relief movement for 32 years. In that time we’ve fed millions as well. In the last 5 years alone we’ve distributed over 100 million meals to our friends and neighbors who are hungry. Our impact on hunger has been substantial, long-lasting and indelible.
Still, while we look behind, we must also look ahead to what must still be done. Far too many of our children, senior citizens, and neighbors do not have enough food to eat every day. Let us not forget that 25% of the kids in our communities do not know where their next meal will come from, if at all. Let’s also remember the almost 20% of our senior citizens who are unable to feed themselves. This time of year, when so many of us think with gratitude of the many gifts in our lives, may we also remember those who still struggle.