The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) reports that 40 million people in 44 countries accessed services within its network in 2020, a 132 percent increase from the previous year. Food banks around the world are working to reinvent traditional models of food distribution and develop creative solutions that respect customer choice and dignity.
“Food banks and the programs and projects they create are culturally unique. The scaffolding of their idea can be exported, but then needs to be reassembled in each local context it lands in,” Craig Nemitz, GFN Asia-Pacific field manager, told Food Tank.
Traditional food banks follow a model that provides help in the form of pre-packaged bags or boxes based on available food supplies. But this structure can disempower those in need. Food also may not meet recipients’ cultural, religious, or medicinal needs, according to a recently published study in BMC Public Health.
Unlike traditional food banks, Chile’s Red de Alimentos recently inaugurated the Despensa Social, which translates to social pantry. In the city of San Bernardo, the pantry aims to provide groceries, personal care and cleaning supplies to adults over 60 in vulnerable situations to give them more agency in choosing from a variety of products.
Taking a similar approach, Korea Foodbank, based in Seoul, recently launched a food market model in several major metropolitan areas. Like Despensa Social in Chile, the Korean grocery market functions as a convenience store where people can choose what they need.
Anyone who visits Despensa Social has access to the pantry at certain times and can pick up eight to ten kilograms of groceries such as fruit, vegetables, yoghurt and beans as well as personal care products a week. In addition to providing nutritional support, Despensa Social works to ensure the safety and health of seniors, around 80 percent of whom will receive pensions below the minimum wage of $450 a month when they retire.
Like Despensa Social in Chile, South Korea’s food market model aims to “return some level of control to the people it serves,” Nemitz tells Food Tank.
In the major metropolitan areas of South Korea where grocery markets operate, local grocery banks donate products and customers receive a government-issued preloaded card. The size of a household and the income level of participants determine how many credits they can get on the cards, and those credits can then be exchanged for groceries and other groceries.
This grocery store model grew out of a desire to make grocery stores more accessible and affordable for the elderly. South Korea’s elderly population faces a poverty rate of 43.2 percent in 2019, the highest among Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member states.
María José Vergara, social management officer for Chile’s Red de Alimentos, tells Food Tank that the nonprofit’s social pantry model aims to achieve a “triple social, economic and environmental impact” with the goal of “avoiding waste, to ensure people’s dignity and guarantee their right to access food and essential products.” Chile’s elderly population is not covered by social assistance programs and faces problems in accessing basic needs.
According to the World Bank, Chile is one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America and South Korea is the 10th largest economy in the world. But in Chile, 30 percent of the population is economically vulnerable and faces deep-seated inequality. In South Korea, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development reports that the country’s relative poverty rate reached 16.7 percent between 2018 and 2019, the fourth-highest rate among the 38 member states.
Vergara tells Food Tank that the role of food banks “as agents of change must be related not only to the delivery of products, but also to actions that add value to our mission.”
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Photo courtesy of The Global FoodBanking Network
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