Exploring the Diverse World of Food Banks

How networking with other food banks inspires us in our mission at home.

Anna Kurian, Meg Kimmel, and Justin Waldrop at Maryland Food Bank

In community service, especially in the fight against hunger, a profound truth echoes through our experiences: If you’ve visited one food bank, you’ve visited one food bank. More than a mere play on words, this idiom opens a window into the rich tapestry of our journey across the nation’s food banks. Each visit unfolds a story of unique characters, shared missions, and diverse approaches, all tailored to meet the distinct needs of local communities.

We recently visited the Maryland Food Bank and the Capital Area Food Bank, located where history breathes through the monuments and the Potomac River whispers tales of the past. Here, we found the streets along the corridors of Congress congested with traffic and the city’s growing homeless encampments. Here, hunger is as visible as the Washington Monument that can be seen from nearly every corner.

These visits were not just routine stops but deep dives into the heart of community service, each with its unique vista and narrative. At the Maryland Food Bank, their warehouse still boasts a picturesque “O” shaped assembly line in the volunteer center – a relic that will soon be replaced. The Capital Area Food Bank, nestled along railroad tracks across from a historic Civil War fortification area-turned-community park, lends its own charm and boasts a distinct organizational chart that we gleaned insights from.

Conveyer belt at Maryland Food Bank

Erica Yaeger, NTFB’s Chief External Affairs Officer, vividly recalls her interaction with Cassie Gilman, Chief Development Officer for the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma.

“Not only do these visits inspire me to try new, innovative things, but they frequently lead to other ideas and connections,” she reflects. These connections fostered between various business intelligence teams led to innovative strategies for measuring community health and enhancing our service delivery.

Similarly, Erica says her conversations with Meg Kimmel, Chief Strategy Officer at the Maryland Food Bank; and Amy Ragan, Houston Area Food Bank’s Chief Development Officer; have been instrumental in shaping our strategies and her own understanding of philanthropy. Through these collaborative relationships, our network grows stronger, allowing us to serve our communities more effectively.

Anna Kurian, NTFB’s Senior Director of Marketing and Communications, echoes those sentiments and says she’s also gained insights during visits from Houston to Maryland. These explorations have been enlightening, helping us grasp the regional peculiarities and devise strategies that resonate with each unique community.

“While the operations differ greatly from state to state, the core mission is the same: provide food to our neighbors in need,” she says.

NTFB Staff Visits East Texas Food Bank

Each food bank brings its narrative to the table. The methods that resonate in Dallas may not hold the same impact in Houston, but this diversity is not merely a challenge; it’s a wellspring of learning and innovation. By immersing ourselves in each region’s distinct personalities and its food bank, we are better equipped to adapt and evolve.

There’s a profound beauty in these visits. It’s the realization that our goals are united, although our methods might diverge. We are not just a collection of individual entities but a part of an extensive network, each contributing uniquely toward a shared cause. These visits transcend mere observation; they are engagements of deep sharing and collective learning.

As our journey continues, weaving through the varied landscapes of America’s food banks, we enrich our understanding and broaden our approach. The principle, “If you’ve visited one food bank, you’ve visited one food bank,” stays with us as a guiding beacon. It’s a reminder that, amid the diversity of each food bank, we are part of a vibrant, resilient network united in our mission to combat hunger and serve our communities. This journey is more than a series of visits; it’s a continuous story of learning, sharing, and growing together as part of America’s heart of service.

Justin Waldrop is the Annual Campaign Manager for the North Texas Food Bank.