Richard Gallegos prepares to unload groceries from a truck at the Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

Mathew Packard is a former director of the San Diego Food Bank.

Food banks across the country can and will play a vital role in providing basic services to individuals and helping organizations in their communities. In a country where billions of pounds of safe and usable food are wasted each year, blackboards can and should be an important hub and resource in communities across the country to ensure that individuals and organizations have access to this basic need.

Feeding America, the national network of over 200 food banks and 60,000 pantries, exists not only to solicit food donations from national manufacturers and retailers and distribute them to their member boards. It also ensures that the same member boards adhere to strict storage, handling and distribution standards. Successful food banks are accountable, adhere to the highest standards of food handling and distribution, and operate efficiently and taxably. In doing so, they are giving food and dollar donors the confidence they need knowing that their donation is well placed.

I was fortunate enough to be the director of the San Diego Food Bank from 1989 to 1994. I was also chairman of the Regional Association of Food Banks in the West and served on a national task force that defined membership standards for the national network now known as Feeding America. During that time, I worked with a dedicated staff and board of directors to ensure that the San Diego Food Bank operates as a separate organization, with a board focused solely on its mission and maintaining the expected high standards. What has happened since then are two food banks, Feeding San Diego (a member of the National Feeding America Network) and the San Diego Food Bank, that serve the needs of our county. I can’t help but believe that this recent change in leadership provides a unique opportunity for the community – and the two food banks – to objectively and critically evaluate what is in the best interests of the community and individuals in the future. Some of the most obvious questions are:

Food dispenser: Do the sources of local food and cash donations feel that they have two organizations with similar missions and purposes, or is there concern or confusion about who to donate to? If you haven’t done so in the past, is there a chance now to take a listening tour with food and dollar donors to hear their thoughts and concerns?

Storage and distribution standards: The most recent annual reports from both food banks show that the San Diego Food Bank has 500 distribution and feeding partners and Feeding San Diego has 292. Are these organizations duplicated? Do both boards adhere to the same eligibility requirements for the organizations that receive food from the board? Are there duplicate reporting and monitoring that they have to adhere to? Is there an opportunity now to take a listening tour of these sales networks to see how we can best serve their needs?

Administration: According to the latest 990 years available on their websites, the San Diego Food Bank expenses were $ 725,686 and the San Diego administration expenses were $ 978,985. Are we maximizing the use of these resources by supporting the infrastructure of two organizations?

Fundraising / development: The San Diego Food Bank also said it had spent $ 2,577,346 on fundraising, with Feeding San Diego spending $ 1,825,636. The combined administration and fundraising expenses for both food banks exceed $ 6 million. Is this the most efficient and effective use of those dollars that will maximize benefits for the donor and the community?

wages: In the same 990s, the San Diego Food Bank spent $ 4,175,535 and Feeding San Diego spent $ 3,314,025 on salaries in fiscal 2019. Certainly many of these positions depend on the size of the surgery and would be needed if there were a tablet or two. To what extent do these salaries represent dual positions, particularly in the areas of senior leadership and administration?

Running a food bank that serves the needs of a community of nearly 3.5 million people requires a large amount of both operating and capital resources and human resources, both paid and volunteer. Are there efficiency gains through closer coordination or even amalgamation of organizations? If similar discussions take place between the organizations, that is a good thing. A comprehensive, transparent evaluation involving external community stakeholders is necessary and in the best interests of all.