Hunger is a problem of almost unimaginable scale.
Take New Hampshire. One of the states with the best per capita income, a non-existent sales and income tax and relatively low crime, New Hampshire nevertheless knows hunger. In fact, one in nine residents of the state is in need of food assistance, meaning they struggle to get enough in the average day. Those ratios are worse elsewhere.
The New Hampshire Food Bank stand against that need. Occupying 60,000 square feet in a Manchester industrial park and working with 50 volunteers at the time of this writer’s visit, it has capacity for millions of pounds of food. That’s necessary, given that some nine-to-ten million pounds of food will wind their way through the warehouse at some point this year.
“We’re running pretty lean,” said Mel Gosselin.
Gosselin leads the charge as the food bank’s executive director. She’s as passionate an advocate of her cause as you could hope for despite her calm exterior, and she has at her command an astonishing array of facts and figures about hunger in her home state. She and the rest of the staff at the food bank have to.
There are over 410 soup kitchens, food pantries and aid organizations in the state of New Hampshire that make use of the food bank. Keeping track of all that inventory, ensuring it gets to where it needs to go in a more refined system than “first come, first serve” and dealing with shortages in donations requires a mastery of logistics and an ever-present eye on the need.
The increasing efficiency of the food bank’s grocery partners—who still provide an incredible amount of food and aid for the organization, she noted—means less donations rolling in from those sources. As a result, an agency that receives no federal or state funding is increasingly reliant on the donations of businesses like Direct Capital and the state’s residents.
Donations of food are a staple, of course, and cash donations allow the food bank to make up shortfalls by purchasing necessary items in bulk. Gosselin speaks often of “stretching all our dollars,” by which she means getting as much quality food as possible for as little money as possible.
The Many Faces of Food
The food bank isn’t just a distribution center for the state’s agencies, however. The new facility has a sleek and bustling production kitchen where meals are prepared for functions, which gives the food bank more money to use for the needy. The food bank is also helping the unemployed and underemployed by offering culinary training in the kitchen, and Gosselin said they are rolling out meals to the needy that are prepared in-house. She pointed out vitamin-and-nutrient fortified mac n’ cheese to me, one of the healthy, low-cost meals the food bank is targeting.
“The kitchen has been an incredible asset for us,” she said, adding that the kitchen is a very useful place to prepare donated food items which need to be cooked or otherwise changed before they can be given out.
She wryly notes that in a perfect world, the business these volunteers are contributing so much time and energy to would not have to exist.
“It’s the business that keeps growing that we all want to go away,” Gosselin said.
Ultimately, what the food bank does is more than help families suffering from hunger and supplying organizations who take on the need. It is an organization that takes on hunger with advocacy and outreach, which Gosselin believes is the only way the problem can truly be tackled.
“People don’t get that we’re not just distributing food,” she told me, looking out over a warehouse that seemed half-empty in the morning light. “And food is just the Band-Aid. It’s not fixing anything.”
Photo credit to iStock