Richard Gallegos prepares to unload food off a truck at the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

Mathew Packard is a former director of the San Diego Food Bank. 

Food banks across the country can and do play a critical role in providing basic sustenance to individuals and helping organizations in their communities. In a country where billions of pounds of safe and usable food are wasted each year, food banks can and should be a vital hub and resource in communities across the country to ensure individuals and helping organizations get access to this basic need.

Feeding America, the national network of over 200 food banks and 60,000 pantries, exists to not only solicit food donations from national manufacturers and distributors and distribute to their member food banks. It also ensures those same member food banks adhere strict storage, handling and distribution standards. Successful food banks are accountable, adhere to highest standards of food handling and distribution and operate in an efficient and fiscally responsible manner. By doing so, they provide donors of both food and dollars confidence they need knowing their donation is well placed.

I was fortunate to serve as the director of the San Diego Food Bank from 1989 to 1994. I also served as chair of the Regional Association of Food Banks in the west and served on a national task force defining membership standards for the national network now known as Feeding America. During this time, I worked with a committed staff and board to ensure San Diego’s Food Bank would operate as its own organization, with a board of directors focused solely on its mission and maintaining the high standards expected. What has transpired since is two food banks, Feeding San Diego (a member of the Feeding America national network) and the San Diego Food Bank operate to serve the needs of our county. I cannot help but think this recent change of leadership provides a unique opportunity for the community — and the two foods banks — to objectively and critically evaluate what is in the best interest of the community and individuals served going forward. Some of the most obvious questions include:

Food Donors: Do the sources of local food and monetary donations appreciate they have two organizations with similar mission and purpose, or does it raise concern or confusion about to whom they should give? If it has not been done in the past, is now the opportunity to conduct a listening tour with both food and dollar donors to hear their thoughts and concerns?

Storage and Distribution Standards: The latest annual report published by both food banks indicate the San Diego Food Bank has 500 distribution and feeding partners and Feeding San Diego has 292. Are these organizations duplicative? Do both food banks adhere to the same eligibility standards for the organizations receiving food from the food bank? Is there duplicate reporting and monitoring they must adhere to? Is now also an opportunity to conduct a listening tour to these distribution networks to hear how we might best serve their needs?

Administration: According to the most recent 990’s available on their websites, San Diego Food Bank expenses included $725,686 and Feeding San Diego $978,985 in administration expenses.  Are we maximizing the use of these resources by supporting the infrastructure of two organizations?

Fundraising/Development: San Diego Food Bank also reported spending $2,577,346 on fundraising with Feeding San Diego spending $1,825,636. Combined expenses in administration and fundraising for both food banks exceed $6 million. Is this the most efficient and effective use of these dollars that maximizes the benefit to the donor and community?

Salaries: In the same 990s, San Diego Food Bank spent $4,175,535 and Feeding San Diego spent $3,314,025 in fiscal year 2019 on salaries. Certainly, many of these positions are a function of the size of the operation and would be needed if there were one or two food banks. With that said, to what extent do these salaries represent duplicative positions especially in the areas of senior leadership and administration?

Running a food bank to serve the needs of a community of almost 3.5 million people takes a large amount of both operational and capital finances and human resources, both paid and volunteer. Are there efficiencies to be realized by more closely coordinating or even merging organizations? If similar conversations are occurring between the organizations that is a good thing. A comprehensive, transparent evaluation that involves outside community stakeholders is necessary and in the best interest of all.

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