AmericanTown’s Heroes: John van Hengel: Father of the Food Bank

Families, friends and neighbors have always helped each other out in hard times, offering a hand up, hand out or home-cooked meal as needed. The act of borrowing a cup of this or that from a neighbor has existed for ages, but the idea of a food bank is said to have been started by John van Hengel about 40 years ago.  

The story goes that while volunteering at a soup kitchen, van Hengel learned stores were throwing imperfect food away, so he started collecting it to redistribute. Realizing the potential he soon came up with the idea of a food bank, where some people would put food in and some people would take food out. He approached St. Mary’s in Phoenix, Arizona with his idea and was given some money to get started and a building to use as the warehouse space. The idea quickly took hold in the community, but then also spread nationwide! 

Today, many communities benefit from the presence of a food bank. They help keep people fed when money isn’t coming in and act as a safety net for those who find themselves without food. The idea likely would have come about eventually, but we can thank John van Hengel for the concept of a food bank. 

Do you know someone who started a movement or an organization that helps their neighbors? Nominate them for next week’s AmericanTown’s Hero! 

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