Getting food where it's needed
Rotarian Craig Nemitz is director of field services at the Chicago-based Global FoodBanking Network.
Craig Nemitz is passionate about food, but he’s not a gourmand or a locavore.
He’s the director of field services at the Chicago-based Global FoodBanking Network, which works with food banks in 19 countries. Food banks collect goods that would otherwise go to waste from sources such as stores, manufacturers, restaurants, and farms, and distribute them through local pantries, soup kitchens, hospices, and school programs.
“Food banking is like one big table that everyone can get around,” says Nemitz, a member of the Rotary Club of Channahon-Minooka, Illinois. “Everyone understands hunger.”
The Rotarian: What does the Global FoodBanking Network do?
Nemitz: We help existing food banks do their jobs better. Where food banks do not exist and there is local interest in starting one, we help with foundation building.
TR: What challenges do you face?
Nemitz: The biggest one is creating the political or social will to make a change. Sometimes people will say, “It’s always been like that, there have always been poor people, so why do you think a food bank is something different?” We are not the answer to hunger. We are one more good tool in the toolbox.
TR: You’re setting up a network of food banks in India. How does that work?
Nemitz: A food bank has to be up, running, and viable for a year before we consider it for membership. Our board of directors includes representatives from some of the largest international firms, such as Kellogg’s and Walmart. Their business units in various countries are engaged in food banks and networks that abide by all local standards, and all local and sometimes international accounting practices and principles. Transparency is critical. Everyone makes sure that checks and balances are in place to help ensure that food and grocery products are being distributed to people in need.
Moving surplus to where there’s a need sounds terribly simple: We’re trying to get a box of food from a warehouse to a distribution point where people need it. But it is a complex issue because there’s governance involved. We need to have a board of directors at the local level. We need public support, governmental support, food industry support, and in many communities, the blessings of religious organizations.
TR: The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says that about a third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. What can individuals do?
Nemitz: Hunger is a disaster, and Rotarians are great at responding to disasters and correcting social problems. At the local level, you can volunteer your time or raise funds. At the district level, Rotarians can adopt a program or start a food bank.
FoodBank South Africa owes a lot of its success to Rotary clubs for getting involved and for saying, “Yes, we do need this in our community.” There are five banks in the South African network, with outreach to hundreds of local agencies, soup kitchens, shelters, and pantries.
TR: How does food banking reduce waste?
Nemitz: Some food banks work with local farmers to take in their surplus. Produce may be perfectly edible, but it won’t meet the standards of a large retailer because of a slight blemish on a potato, tomato, or pepper. Rather than destroy it, it goes to the food bank. To a hungry family or a hungry child, that food is golden.
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