Midwest Food Bank aims to spend 99 cents of every dollar on feeding hungry families. The remaining 1% is for administrative costs.
Executive Director Tara Ingham said its Normal location gave out $46 million worth of food in 2018.
“We did that with almost 9,000 volunteers in one year. Nine-thousand volunteers contributing their time and their efforts,” Ingham said. “In all reality, what that equates to in their hours, it was almost 81,000 hours worth of manpower. That is almost 39 full-time employees.”
She said the organization can’t afford to staff those employees while sticking to its 99 cent give-back goal.
“We work on a shoestring budget in order to feed people,” she said, explaining that the Normal location has only four employees. “Having our volunteers is really a key piece to the pie.”
Ingham said the organization also relies heavily on money donations and partners with food manufacturers and organizations like State Farm to operate food drives.
With so much food being donated, Ingham said it’s not possible to assume that everything is within its shelf life.
“In our book, food is not expired,” Ingham said. “... That usually is what’s called a ‘best by date’ or a manufacturer’s recommended sell by date. And that means get it off the shelves at the grocery store by that date.”
Ingham explained that date is more of a recommendation than a strict consume-by date.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean that the food is bad, or it’s spoiled, or it’s going to harm anybody by consuming it. The food is still good.”
Once food donations arrive at Midwest Food Bank, Ingham said there are a few paths it could take. Normal is the hub for disaster relief efforts, but the local office also serves over 400 agencies.
Ingham said another path to getting food to low-income families is through its Backpack Program.
“Imagine going to school Monday through Friday being a child who, maybe, qualifies for the free and reduced lunch program. You’re guaranteed that you’re going to have a meal there at school throughout the weekdays, but what happens overnight or on the weekends?”
Ingham said Midwest Food Bank plans to grow the program by offering food packs to junior high and high school students.
“Right now we’re servicing approximately 3,000 local students with the Backpack Program, sending home food over the weekend so that they have access to some sort of nutrition before coming back to school the next Monday,” she said.
Weekend packs include items like granola bars, applesauce, and microwaved meals.
Midwest Food Bank was founded in Normal in 2003.
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