Ladies and gentleman, meet John Van Hengel, founder and creator of the food bank, and the man Feeding Tampa Bay honors on
World Humanitarian Day.
In the late 1960s, John van Hengel was living in Phoenix, AZ. As a retired businessman, he had time on his hands and philanthropy in his heart. During this time, he began volunteering at a soup kitchen to feed the hungry. One day, he met a desperate mother who regularly rummaged through grocery store garbage bins to find food for her children. She suggested that there should be a place where, instead of being thrown out, discarded food could be stored for people to pick up—similar to the way “banks” store money for future use. With that, an industry was born.
Van Hengel established St. Mary’s Food Bank in Phoenix, AZ as the nation’s first food bank. In its initial year, van Hengel and his team of volunteers distributed 275,000 pounds of food to people in need. Word of the food bank’s success quickly spread, and states began to take note. By 1977, food banks had been established in 18 cities across the country.
As the number of food banks began to increase, van Hengel created a national organization for food banks and in 1979 he established Second Harvest, which was later called America’s Second Harvest the Nation’s Food Bank Network. In 2008, the network changed its name to Feeding America to better reflect the mission of the organization.
Today, Feeding America is the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization—a powerful and efficient network of 200 food banks across the country that Feeding Tampa Bay is proud to be a part of. As food insecurity rates hold steady at the highest levels ever, the Feeding America network of food banks has risen to meet the need. Altogether, we feed 46 million people at risk of hunger, including 12 million children and 7 million seniors.
Because of John van Hengel, 46 million people now have a meal where there would have been an empty plate. Remember and honor this incredible man who took action against hunger in our country. One person really can make a difference.
“It’s amazing how many people are being fed because of this crazy little thing we started. We’re feeding millions and it’s not costing anyone anything.”
– John van Hengel