When Big Charity Hoovers Up Donated Food

Nov. 9, 2022
Feeding America doesn’t want to feed local food pantries in Iowa.

There’s a food fight in Iowa that doesn’t look like much fun.

It’s between some food banks and pantries in Des Moines and Feeding America, the gigantic nonprofit that administers a network of food banks around the country. In a nutshell, Feeding America, through a local subsidiary, wants the Iowa pantries to expand their operations; the ones who refuse are finding themselves cut off from their supplies of surplus food donated by local retailers.

This is a big deal, because donated food is the life’s blood of food banks; it’s the source of most of their supplies. More than 90% of the donations accepted by the Feeding America network consist of food, according to the Paddock Post.

The Food Bank of Iowa is administered by Feeding America, and it in turn partners with neighborhood banks and pantries across much of Iowa, allocating them donated food as needed. Several of the local pantries, including one run by the Salvation Army, recently were notified by the Food Bank of Iowa that if they want to keep the partnership, they have to increase the amount of food they have on hand. One of them told Axios.com that to meet the demands, they would have to increase their supply of food on hand from three days’ worth to 45 – for which they don’t have the capacity.

But it turns out that the end of the partnership doesn’t just mean that the local pantries will get no more donations passed through the Food Bank of Iowa. They’re also getting cut off from accessing surplus food directly from retailers.

Several local pantries got cease-and-desist letters from the Food Bank of Iowa, telling them they have to stop picking up surplus food from retailers that include Costco and Walmart. Apparently Feeding America has, or considers itself to have, the exclusive right to surplus food from those sources, notwithstanding that the Salvation Army collected up to 500 items a day from them.

As a result, some of the pantries say they may have to ask for increased contributions from other sources, throttle back their services or even go out of business.

Bigfooting is nothing new in business. If I started a beverage company tomorrow, I would not expect to have the same access to, say, ingredients or packaging as Coca-Cola. But there’s something extremely unbecoming about it in the nonprofit world. Simply put, it’s ineffably arrogant to declare yourself the gatekeeper of food charity. As Martin Luther said in a different context: “When the Lord said to Peter ‘Feed my sheep,’ did He mean that no one else could feed them without Peter’s permission?”

I’ve said before that I’ve never much liked Feeding America. I stopped giving to them directly when I found out how much they pay their CEO (close to $1 million a year).

Well, now I have a reason to like them even less.

About the Author

Pan Demetrakakes | Senior Editor

Pan has written about the food and beverage industry for more than 25 years. His areas of coverage have included formulations, processing, packaging, marketing and retailing. Pan worked for Food Processing Magazine for six years in the 1990s, where he was operations editor (his current role), touring dozens of food plants of every description. He has also worked for Packaging and Food & Beverage Packaging magazines, the latter as chief editor, during which he won three ASBPE awards. He is a graduate of Stanford University with a BA in communications.