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E. H. Butler Library, Buffalo State, The State University of New York

Archives & Special Collections: Community Food Center of Western New York

The Monroe Fordham Regional History Center

Community Food Center of Western New York [1980-1987]

A Short History (1982)

In 1980 a group of community volunteers recognized the need for a food bank in Western New York and pioneered the effort to establish one. The Community Food Action Organization, located at 70 Harvard Place, provided use of its facilities and staff to the “Food Bank Group” to organize around the problem of food distribution to the needy. The Buffalo Area Metropolitan Ministries Organization, Catholic Charities, Council of Churches, Boy Scouts of America, United Methodist Women and other community agencies have contributed limited start-up seed money.

The group made contact with the National Food Bank Network, Second Harvest which began in Arizona and now includes food banks in 43 cities. Through the National Network and solicitation of local food industries, the group was able to receive food and distribute it to some 50 agencies in the Buffalo area. Its local expertise plus research, consultation with the Second Harvest Network and study of the Network’s guidelines helped the group to realize that a central clearinghouse was needed in order to:

  1. Consolidate solicitation and equitable distribution of food
  2. Insure food quality
  3. Coordinate pickup of donated food
  4. Provide centrally located storage facilities
  5. Keep records of, and acknowledge donations.

Expertise over the two-year period was also demonstrated for that optimal operating efficiency, a core of paid staff is needed along with volunteer workers.

The problem of hunger has grown more critical in Erie County as economics conditions have worsened. Studies issued by local sources in 1982, showed that one out of three Erie County residents relies upon unemployment benefits or welfare, that as many as 80,000 county residents may be out of work, and that 650 workers exhaust unemployment benefits each week. Of the subsidized feeing programs in the county, all now operate at maximum levels of client population, and most have waiting lists. In 1981, over 40,000 individuals used the area’s five major emergency food sources at least once. Because of the increased need has strained the food distribution capacities of the individual agencies, these agencies cannot maintain their food resources or afford staff time or volunteers to gather additional food supplies. Most of all, they are unable to store large amounts of food and maintain that food under their limited budgets.

At the same time, it is estimated that one-fifth of all goods produced for human consumption is lost annually in the United States. A recent report to Congress indicates that 49 million people could have been fed in 1974 with “waste food” perfectly edible but unsalable for a variety of reasons.

The Community Food Center has gained great impetus in the first few months since its incorporation. The Board of Directors now comprises a community cross-section of individuals with considerable experience in human service endeavors and includes business and labor leaders, food industry executives, city and county officials and representatives of agencies and organizations which provide services to persons in need of food. The Board is powerfully motivated by the potential in the food bank has for reducing the tragic dimension of hunger among Erie County’s residents, using food that otherwise would be wasted.

The center was operating in the space donated by the Boy Scouts of America, 334 Delaware Ave. As experienced acting executive volunteered his time, temporarily, to manage the center for the organizational phase until the center was in the position to hire a regular paid manager. Through the energetic voluntary activities of the board committees, substantial quantities of food was collected and promptly distributed to about 50 food-serving agencies. Limited storage space, without refrigeration, was available at the Boy Scout Facility. To operate at optimal effectiveness, the center needs a core of paid staff and a warehouse with refrigeration and at least 10,000 square feet of storage space.

The goals of the Community Food Center are:

  1. To collect and store salvageable foods which would otherwise be wasted.
  2. To distribute food to Western New York member agencies and organizations that serve persons who are hungry. The participants must meet the Community Food Center’s membership requirements. They will contribute a minimal shared maintenance per pound fee to defray transportation costs. The food bank will use guidelines and standards of the National Second Harvest Network to insure quality, equitable distribution and accountability.
  3. To establish a warehouse of approximately 10,000 feet, with refrigeration. (Warehouse space with cooling facilities and loading and unloading personnel and equipment has been donated for the first year.)
  4. To provide staff. The center will hire a full-time director/manager, one food handler/driver and a secretary/bookkeeper. Volunteers will be recruited for warehouse help and wherever skills match a job.
  5. To solicit food, with the help and advice of local heads of food firms and trade associations. A food solicitation kits will be developed, to include sections of need for food, what food banks can do, how tax laws apply, liability and how to donate.
  6. To join the National Food Salvage Network.

Downloadable Finding-Aid and Inventory

Additional Research

The Community Food Center of Western New York was founded in part by Ms. Carolyn B. Thomas in 1980. The Carolyn B. Thomas Papers are held by the Monroe Fordham Regional History Center and open for research. 

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