Not a single person in the United States needs to go hungry — enough food is produced in this country to feed the entire population. Yet according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 40 million people in the United States lived in food insecure households in 2017. A food insecure household is one that is unable to provide enough food for every member to live a healthy life. Factors such as low wages and medical bills often contribute to people’s inability to purchase adequate food, and these factors combined can keep people trapped in poverty.
Meanwhile, 72 billion pounds of edible food goes to waste every year. It’s estimated that 25%-40% of the food grown in the United States for domestic consumption will never be eaten, according to the nonprofit organization Feeding America.
Children and seniors on fixed incomes are particularly susceptible to food insecurity. Over 12 million children in the United States live in food insecure households, many relying on school lunch as their sole stable source of nutrition.
In response, Feeding America, a national hunger relief organization, has initiated multiple nationwide programs to feed children, including BackPack, a service where kids in need are sent home from school on Fridays with a backpack of food to last them the weekend, Kids Cafe, an after school meal service for children who may not receive dinner, and Summer Food service programs, which bring food to neighborhoods where children in need may face hunger during the summer when school lunch is not available.
Federal programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps) and WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) can provide monthly help to families in need, but for families and individuals who do not qualify or who have trouble applying for benefits, food banks provide a necessary and consistent source of nutritious food.
Many food banks, while relying partially on donations and government commodities to feed their clients, are intercepting the food waste stream to prevent edible food from ending up in landfills and instead they try to get it into the hands of people in need.
24/7 Wall St. compiled a list of the best food banks in America, and across the board, the vast majority of these food banks serve as massive hubs that salvage food from grocery stores, restaurants, manufacturers, distributors, and farms and store it in warehouse facilities from which they distribute it through their own food relief programs and through dozens of different channels in their area, such as food pantries, churches, homeless shelters, and after-school programs. Although these organizations provide necessary support to millions of people, they are by no means the largest charities in their states.
Most of the best organizations are members of the Feeding America network and participate in the BackPack, Kids Cafe, and Summer Food programs in addition to mobile pantry services, senior grocery delivery, and providing food for a vast network of nonprofit relief organizations in their area, often serving the hungriest counties in their state.