The FAMCare Blog

A Nonprofit Success Story

Posted by George Ritacco on Jul 21, 2015 11:29:00 AM




How can it be that most Americans have never heard of the 3rd largest charity in the United States? Everyone has heard of the largest charity, The United Way. Number 2, The Salvation Army, has been in the public eye for more than 150 years and number 5, The American National Red Cross, is well known to little school children. However, no one who we asked to guess what non-profit was number 3, got it right.


Receiving donations in excess of $2 billion annually, the 3rd largest charity in the United States is Feeding America, a non-profit nationwide network of food banks that feeds more than 46 million hungry Americans through food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and other community-based agencies across America.


In the late 1960s, John Van Hengel, a retired businessman in Phoenix, Arizona, while volunteering at a local soup kitchen, began soliciting food donations for the kitchen. He solicited unwanted food from grocery stores, local gardens, and nearby produce farms. His effort led to the creation of St. Mary’s Food Bank in Phoenix, the nation’s first food bank.

By 1975, Van Hengel’s new food bank was so effective in feeding the poor of Phoenix that the federal government awarded St. Mary’s a grant to assist in developing food banks across the nation. St. Mary’s food bank network grew constantly but quietly for the next twenty- five years until it merged with Foodchain, (at that time the nation’s largest food-rescue operation) to become America’s Second Harvest. 

In 2007, America’s Second Harvest was featured on American Idol as one of the charities selected for Idol Gives Back, and one year later Second Harvest was renamed Feeding America.


Starting with Van Hengel, the leadership of Feeding America recognized a dramatic inefficiency in America’s food marketplace. Taking the year 2004, for example, there were 84 billion pounds of food wasted in the United States and 46 million people going hungry at the same time. Initially, and on a much smaller scale of course, Van Hengel recognized this inefficiency and set out to correct it by inventing the food bank. Van Hengel’s followers expanded his efforts across the country, eventually establishing 200 food banks that supply more than 60,000 food pantries and meal programs.


Feeding America has quietly grown to be the 3rd largest charity in the United States following principles established by the founder: 

  1. 98.5% of all income goes to feed the hungry.
  2. Only .2% goes to administrative expenses.
  3. Annual financial statements are audited by an outside independent auditor.
  4. All voting board members are independent directors.
  5. Feeding America neither borrows nor loans money to related parties.
  6. Strict adherence to a Conflict of Interest Policy.
  7. Attentive, fair, and respectful treatment of all “Whistleblowers”.


    Because Feeding America is a self-policing charity that sticks-to-the-knitting, it has never drifted from its core mission. That's why it has quietly risen to number 3 right behind The United Way and The Salvation Army. Now that's a success story! Congratulations to all who have contributed to this remarkable accomplishment.

Topics: Social Services Industry News

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