Bernardo M. Villegas
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Food Banking (Part I)

           Consistent with its strong commitment to poverty eradication in the Philippines, the Center for Research and Communication held last June 17 a Focused Group Discussion (FGD) on Food Banking. A small group of economists, management specialists (especially in supply chain management), officials of NGOs and individual philanthropists was briefed by some officials from Second Harvest Japan that already has years of experience in food banking, not only in Japan but in a good number of Asian countries.  Second Harvest Japan establishes and develops partnerships with manufacturers, wholesalers, importers and restaurants and encourages them to donate excess or surplus food or grocery items to institutional or individual beneficiaries like orphanages, women’s shelters, aid agencies, welfare institutions, community centers and soup kitchens.          We learned the fundamentals of food banking.  Food banks collect surplus food that is still safe for consumption and redistribute them to those in need.  On the one hand, there is surplus food, and on the other there are those in need.  Food banks are a bridge between the two.  They connect “donors” who have surplus food (e.g. canned goods that are about to expire and will just be destroyed to ensure that they will not be sold anymore) and “beneficiaries” who are in need of food support (in the Philippines, for example, there are numerous orphanages, elementary schools with feeding programs for very young children, homes for the aged, shelters for street children, etc.).

          In the case of processed food, Second Harvest Japan prefers to have at least one month left before expiration so that the donations can be safely delivered well ahead of its expiration.  They do now deliver expired food and request agencies to dispose of any donations that have expired after being delivered.  Among the preferred donations are canned food, agricultural products, emergency supplies, rice and other grains, bread and pastries and temperature controlled (frozen or chilled) food products.   What are rejected are lunch boxes, fast food sandwiches, rice balls, hamburgers, prepared food such as leftovers from banquets and parties, food without any expiration date on the package and home cooked food.  Fortunately, among the participants in the FGD there were officials of NGOs that already are implementing some sort of food banking linking restaurants like Jollibee and Contis with establishments that are within walking distance from the beneficiaries like orphanages, public schools and feeding clinics.  The problem of storage or spoilage is minimized if the initial attempts to link those having surplus food with those in need are location specific.  It was agreed that we can start with these low-hanging fruits of  food banking.

          In fact, I shared with the group my experience with the students of a leading technical school that grants scholarships to out-of-school youth in a training program for electro-mechanical workers who are in great demand among the factories in CALABARZON.  These children of poor families are not only given tuition scholarships but also receive some stipends to cover living expenses.  Because the families of these youth are so poor, it is a practice for many of them to send even their stipends to their families for their basic needs.  They heroically scrimp even in their food budget so that we soon discovered that some of them have only one meal a day consisting of a pandesal and a bottle of coke.  Obviously, this diet has a negative impact on their ability to study and on their long-term health conditions.  Food banking can definitely target these technical schools so that they can offer very nourishing lunches to their students.  Restaurants close to the site of this technical school can share their surplus food with these hungry students.

          As surveys after surveys of the Social Weather Station have revealed, there is no shortage of hungry and malnourished Filipinos, even among those who are not exactly considered as living below the poverty line.  For a good number of years now, those who earn income below the poverty line ($1.50 to $2.00 per person per day) have been 25% of the entire population.  But those who report that they have experienced acute hunger in some of the SSW surveys can be as high as 50% or more of the population.  Hunger and malnourishment are, therefore, a problem not only of the poorest of the poor but of millions of low-middle income families who may encounter short-term financial crises because of family tragedies, natural calamities, temporary unemployment, and other events that drastically reduce their food budgets. 

          To encourage readers to help in any way they can this movement of food banking in the Philippines, I enumerate below what the officials of Food Harvest Japan told us are the advantages of food banking, not only for the donors and beneficiaries, but also for government agencies.  For the partner agencies, the following are the obvious advantages:

          1.  Reduced food costs.  Welfare agencies and NGOs are able to economize on food expenses and direct funds toward other welfare activities.  For example, the experience in Japan showed that one welfare agency cut its average cost per meal by as much as 40% as a benefit of food banking.

          2.  Access to new and better quality products.  Most welfare agencies purchase food based on cost rather than on quality and nutritional content.  Through food banking, these agencies can receive donated premium ice cream, milk products, sweets or quality seasonings that they could not normally afford to purchase with their limited budget.  In the Philippines, for example, some of the actual or potential donor companies are in the manufacture of canned tuna, milk products, and canned sardines which can significantly enhance the nutritive values of the food served to the orphans, elementary school children, and other beneficiaries.

          3. Meeting nutritional and emotional needs.  Prior to food donations, the staff at one orphaning noticed sugar disappearing from the kitchen.  Because of tight funding, the facility was unable to provide sweets or snacks for their children, and so some of the children started to steal and eat the sugar used for cooking.  With the assistance of the food bank, the facility is now able to provide the children with nutritious food as well as occasional sweets and snacks.  (To be continued.)