116 S. Michigan Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60603-6001
Fax: (312) 263-5626
Web site: http://www.secondharvest.org
Sales: $400 million (1998 est.)
NAIC: 624210 Food Banks
Second Harvest is the largest not-for-profit domestic hunger-relief organization in the United States. The organization provides food to people that are unable to purchase it themselves by raising money for and distributing food and other grocery products through an extensive and comprehensive network of food banks across the United States. In addition, the organization sees its mission as partly educational in raising the American public’s level of awareness about the nature of hunger in the United States. Second Harvest works closely with over 50,000 local hunger-relief agencies and organizations, including soup kitchens, day care centers, grassroots youth programs in urban areas, senior centers, homeless shelters, women’s shelters, and food pantries. The organization has arranged to secure surplus food from food growers, distributors, retail grocery stores, and food processors, including such corporate giants as General Mills, Kraft, Nabisco, Pillsbury, Proctor & Gamble, and Kellogg. Approximately 26 million Americans were assisted by the Second Harvest food network in 1998, including households with working individuals, women, children, and the elderly. More than one billion pounds of food and grocery products were distributed through its network during the same year. What might be the most impressive accomplishment of Second Harvest is that the organization distributes 34 pounds of food and grocery products for every dollar that it receives as a donation.
The creation of Second Harvest arose out of an idea put into practice by John Van Hengel. A successful businessman who lived and worked most of his life in Phoenix, Arizona, Van Hengel wanted to give something back to the community after he decided to retire. Not quite sure what to devote his energy to, he volunteered at a local soup kitchen operating in one of the poorer areas of Phoenix. Van Hengel soon noticed that the soup kitchen was not only overcrowded, but that there was a need for much larger quantities of food and produce. Having been well connected in the Phoenix business community for years, Van Hengel began to solicit food donations from many of the businesspeople that he had come to know. Initially, much of the food that he solicited would have otherwise gone to waste, but within a short period of time the soup kitchen was overwhelmed with food and grocery product donations. As a good entrepreneur does when he sees an opportunity, Van Hengel established a warehouse facility where he began to stock the donations, and then distribute them to charitable agencies and organizations throughout the Phoenix area that were feeding needy people. Thus the first food bank was developed by Van Hengel during the late 1960s, and the concept has been refined and replicated across the United States ever since.
During the early 1970s, people from around the nation heard about Van Hengel’s charitable work in Phoenix, and began to take notice of the food bank concept. Within a few short years, food banks modeled on Van Hengel’s warehouse facility were started in larger cities throughout the country, including New York, Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Boston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. All of these food banks provided similar services to the community, relying primarily on the corporate sector and retail groceries in the local area to donate food products so that disadvantaged people could eat a more nutritious and well-balanced meal.
It was in 1976, however, that the food bank concept was given the added impetus to make it a national program. The 1976 Tax Reform Act significantly altered the tax structure for most for-profit corporations by making it financially advantageous for large and small companies alike to donate their products to charities. The pharmaceutical industry was especially affected by the Tax Reform Act, since companies that manufactured drugs were then able to donate large quantities of expired items—their effectiveness still intact—in accordance with rules established by the Food and Drug Administration. Food processors and food product companies were also able to contribute large amounts of food for charitable causes and take a tax deduction. The result of the 1976 Tax Reform Act was far-reaching, therefore, since food banks like the one Van Hengel had started were now able to procure donated food products much more easily.
Just as important as the Tax Reform Act was the large grant that Van Hengel received from the federal government to establish a comprehensive network of food banks throughout the country. For nearly ten years, Van Hengel had worked assiduously to develop an efficient and effective food bank facility in Phoenix. By the late 1970s, his work had not only been replicated by other groups across the nation, but state and federal government representatives had noticed Van Hengel’s ability to provide a genuine service that assisted people who were themselves unable to purchase enough food to eat. As Van Hengel laid the foundation for a national network of food banks, and began to devise a strategic plan for expanding his activities, many of the people who were working closely with him suggested that he form his own not-for-profit charitable organization to develop the food bank concept. The federal government agreed, and was more than happy to provide additional funding for building the capacities of a new organization devoted to eradicating hunger in America. Second Harvest was formally incorporated in 1979 as a charitable organization, and rapidly developed into a clearinghouse for food and grocery product contributions from national and multinational corporations based in the United States. As a good businessman, Van Hengel developed and quickly implemented a comprehensive list of standards that he thought all food banks should follow, including detailed recommendations for quality control, the establishment of storage facilities, and the responsibilities of management. This list of recommendations was enthusiastically received by almost everyone associated with the food bank concept, and served as the national guideline for those groups who wanted to establish a food bank.
Addressing the Problem of Hunger During the 1980s
By the end of 1982, the large source of funding that had been previously provided by the federal government was discontinued. Representatives of the government had fulfilled their pledge to help the food bank concept expand across the United States and, by the time federal funding for the program was curtailed, the goal had been attained. As a result, Second Harvest, as well as other food bank programs, were forced to search for funding from alternative sources. Management at the nonprofit organization decided to pursue the corporate sector as a possibility for funding Second Harvest programs, and began to look for a firm within the food products industry.
With a little bit of luck, and not a little persistence, the people at Second Harvest were able to convince Pillsbury Corporation to help them implement the vision of food for the poor in the United States. Pillsbury, of course, was one of the nation’s leading producers of grocery items, including Green Giant frozen foods, Pillsbury brand-name refrigerated dough products, Hungry Jack canned and frozen meat products, Progresso soup, and many other types of products for the international consumer market, as well as a major supplier of baking goods to the food service and commercial baking industries. During the early 1980s, Second Harvest and Pillsbury Corporation formed a unique partnership to support Production Alliance, a revolutionary program in which Pillsbury agreed to be the first firm among the top food products companies to produce high-quality food items exclusively for donation to Second Harvest and its network of food banks that fed hungry people. Up until that time, food banks throughout the country, including Second Harvest, had been forced to rely upon surplus, slightly damaged, or discontinued food products as the primary source of contributions for their food supply to the hungry. In a groundbreaking agreement, Pillsbury agreed to use a philanthropic budget and its available production capacity to make high-quality, top-of-the-line food products for donation to Second Harvest and the organizations and agencies working within its food bank network. In just a short time, Pillsbury’s participation as the initial corporate partner in support of the Production Alliance spurred numerous other major firms in the food industry to follow suit.
Feed hungry people by soliciting and judiciously distributing food and grocery products through a nationwide network of certified affiliate food banks, and educate the public about the nature of and solutions to the problems of hunger. In carrying out its mission, Second Harvest and the National Network of Food Banks are committed to standards of performance represented by the following values in which we believe: Integrity: We will be open and honest in all relationships, dealings and transactions. We will strive to earn and convey trust through openness and honesty. Stewardship of Resources: We will keep faith with the public trust through the efficient and compassionate use of resources entrusted to us. We will strive to be mindful that the mission is accomplished through the generosity of others. Accountability: We will set clear standards for the benchmark against which to measure competence, efficiency and effectiveness of mission. We will embrace a twofold responsibility through accountability: first, for policy, decisions and actions; and second, for complete, accurate and clear record keeping and report information. Service: We will commit to provide excellent service. We will continually strive to study, understand and meet the changing needs with competence and compassion.
By the time Second Harvest relocated its headquarters from Phoenix, Arizona, to Chicago, Illinois, in 1984, there were food banks in almost every major city across the United States, many of which were providing very good services to the hungry due to the Production Alliance program and the growing number of corporate partnerships that resulted in larger and larger high-quality food donations. Since food banks were sprouting up throughout the country, the network expansion that Second Harvest had achieved on its own began to slow down, and management decided to shift its focus to improving the organization’s programs that were currently operating. Along with this shift in focus, management also implemented a comprehensive internal evaluation process that led to an increased efficiency in the activities of the Second Harvest food bank network, and that ultimately resulted in greater amounts of food distributed through the network to people in need. As the decade of the 1980s drew to a close, Second Harvest had transformed itself from a largely untrained volunteer organization to a sophisticated, highly professional agency whose reputation continued to grow as it was able to collect and distribute ever-increasing amounts of donated food products to feed the hungry.
The 1990s and Beyond
When Second Harvest was established in 1979, the people working as volunteers sorting the canned goods at food banks or serving meals at the local soup kitchens all felt that their services would not be needed when the U.S. economy improved. Unfortunately, this was not what happened. Even though the economy expanded during the 1980s and 1990s, unemployment rates continued to increase, with over 13 percent of the U.S. population living at or below the poverty line. According to statistics collected by the Census Bureau, poverty was on the increase due to the reduction of government sponsored support programs and safety nets, and the new economy which did not welcome unskilled workers.
For the reasons outlined above, the people who founded Second Harvest and those from a second generation who now work there took it upon themselves to address the growing problem of hunger in the United States. One of their most successful partnerships has been with corporations in the dairy industry. In the mid-1990s, the company formed a partnership with Dean Foods, with the corporation becoming one of the first private-label donors to the Second Harvest food bank network.
Another high-profile firm that agreed to a partnership was Land O’Lakes. The company soon began making ongoing donations that included everything from financial support to sour cream to butter. Kraft joined in partnership as well, making a $200,000 donation in order to ship fresh foods to organizations working within the Second Harvest food bank network. Other large corporate donations during the mid-1990s arrived from General Mills, Borden, and Nabisco.
At the end of the 20th century, Second Harvest had developed into the largest charitable hunger-relief organization in the United States. The organization distributed over one billion pounds of grocery products and other kinds of donated foods in 1998 through a network of over 200 food banks. For more than 26 million hungry people—American men, women, and children—the food that Second Harvest provided was what kept them alive.
Balu, Rekha, “Food Industry’s Efficiency Poses Dilemma for Charity,” Wall Street Journal, December 18, 1998, p. B4.
“The Dairy Industry Delivers,” Dairy Foods, February 1998, p. 22.
Harper, Roseanne, “Gooding’s Chefs’ Demo Is Recipe for Aid to Poor,” Supermarket News, February 28, 1998, p.13.
McDonald, Barbara, “Kraft, Chains Aid Second Harvest for Hungry,” Supermarket News, December 21, 1998, p. 31.
“Second Harvest Recognizes Burger King As Special Donor,” Nation’s Restaurant News, October 12, 1998, p. 90.
Seligman, Dan, “Is Philanthropy Irrational?,” Forbes, June 1, 1998, p. 94.
Stark, Ellen, “Which Charities Merit Your Money,” Money, November 1996, p. 100.
“Your Money Goes Far at These A+ Charities,” Money, December 15, 1997, p. 27.