A food bank or foodbank is a non-profit, charitable organization that distributes food to those who have difficulty purchasing enough to avoid hunger.
The world’s first food bank, the St. Mary’s Food Bank, was founded by John Van Hengel in Phoenix , Arizona (USA) in 1967. John Van Hengel grew up in Los Angeles (USA), and moved to Arizona in 1965 where he became a volunteer at a soup kitchen. The refectory had an annual budget of only $ 8,000 and this induced John Van Hengel to seek out sources for free products. In the beginning he recovered vegetables left in the fields and fruit remaining on the trees. However, he obtained more products that the need of the soup kitchen where he worked. So he delivered the remaining products to other relief organizations, making it possible for them to offer additional meals. After a while, the need to give structure to this operation led to the creation of the first food bank. An old bakery was used as a warehouse. Van Hengel and his colleagues soon began to recover surplus food from many supermarkets,which sometimes sent their vans directly to the warehouse.
The news about this new kind of bank went viral and following the example of the St. Mary’s Food Bank more food banks were established: in the USA and a few years later also in Canada, as a sort of positive contamination.
Since the 1980s foodbanking has spread around the world. There are over 25 countries with active food bank groups under the umbrella of The Global FoodBanking Network. Countries in the international network include Australia, Israel, Turkey, Russia, India, Taiwan, Colombia, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and the UK. There are also several countries with food banks but which have not yet joined the network, either as they don’t yet meet the required criteria or as they have not applied.
In Europe, European Federation of Food Banks (FEBA) was launched on 23 September 1986.
Between 1988 and 1992 FEBA supported the development of food banks in Spain, Italy, Ireland followed by Portugal, Poland, Greece and Luxembourg from 1994 to 2001. Since 2004, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the United Kingdom, Lithuania and Serbia have joined the network, followed by the Netherlands, Switzerland, Estonia, Denmark and more recently by Ukraine and Bulgaria in 2013, Norway (2014) and Austria (2015).
In 2016 FEBA celebrated its 30th anniversary.
In 2018 FEBA is going through several changes. After 32 years the Board of Directors and the General Assembly decided to move the organization from Bourg-la-Reine (Paris) to Brussels in order to be closer to European institutions and other European stakeholders and NGOs and professionally support the growth and development of its members. In February 2018 the European Food Banks Federation asbl (FEBA), a non-profit organization under Belgian law, was constituted in Brussels as a continuation of the organization under French law and it pursues the same purpose.
Olivier De Schutter, a senior United Nations official charged with ensuring governments honour their obligation to safeguard their citizen’s right to food, has expressed alarm at the rise of food banks. He has reminded the governments of the advanced economies in Europe, Britain and Canada that they have a “duty to protect” their citizens from hunger, and suggested that leaving such an obligation to food banks may be an abuse of human rights.