A Walk Down Memory Lane: History of the Food Bank

Food Banks, where food is stored and given to individuals in need, is not a new concept. In fact, the very first food bank in Canada opened in Edmonton, Alberta in 1981. There was a large need after a bust in the oil industry resulted in a recession that affected many Canadian families. Today there are over 800 food banks in Canada.

In 1987, the Canadian Association of Food Banks was created to represent food banks at a national level.

An American Concept  

However, that was not the first food bank to be created as we know it today. The very first food bank similar to how we do food banks today was created in the 1960s in the US, during the economic recession. John van Hengel, a soup kitchen volunteer in Arizona was responsible for that.  

John was a grassroots activist who created several food banks including Father of Food Banking, St. Mary's Food Bank, and an additional one in Phoenix, Arizona. He pioneered Feeding America, a non-profit network dedicated to feeding over 46 million people through community-based agencies.  

The Inspiration 

John didn’t come up with the idea out of thin air but was touched when he met with a single mother of ten children. The family pointed out the amount of throwaway food available in grocery store dumpsters. From there, he began collecting food that was still good for human consumption but no longer profitable by supermarkets. That is how he founded the world’s first food bank: St. Mary`s Food Bank Alliance, in 1967. 

This not only helped feed hungry families in the community, but decreased food waste generated by commercial food industries by distributing perfectly consumable food through various community food banks. 

His Legacy Lives On

John passed away at the age of 83, but his legacy of food banks lives on throughout North America. John was able to inspire even the Europeans and the first food bank opened in France in 1984, followed by Belgium (1986), and the Netherlands (2002).  

Needless to say, following the great recession of 2008, food banks faced increased demand, leaving us where we are today.  

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