Food For All: CAFB Breaks Ground for New Facility

Capital Area Food Bank has reached a plateau and broken ground on a 125,000-square-foot facility that will eventually double its current capacity of 20 million pounds of food to those in need. Christel Hair, who is chief development officer of the largest food bank in the Washington metro area, expects the facility to open by 2010. It will provide repackaging services for bulk items and

WASHINGTON — Capital Area Food Bank has reached a plateau and broken ground on a 125,000-square-foot facility that will eventually double its current capacity of 20 million pounds of food to those in need.

Christel Hair, who is chief development officer of the largest food bank in the Washington metro area, expects the facility to open by 2010. It will provide repackaging services for bulk items and expanded educational programs designed to teach people how to maximize their food resources. The project will cost $36 million. To date, CAFB has raised $28.9 million for the new facility.

CAFB has broadened its mission over the last 28 years with advocacy and direct outreach such as Kids Cafe, an after-school snack and meal program; Brown Bag, monthly food supplements to low-income seniors and families; and Face Hunger, a workshop designed to increase public awareness and understanding of hunger and poverty.

“I think there is a concept out there that we are just a band-aid, but we do have nutrition classes and are training nonprofit agencies to write grants so they can become better at serving their community,” said Hair. CAFB distributes to 700 area agencies, many of them small, faith-based organizations. Hair noted that these agencies also go beyond food distribution and serve as drug rehabilitation centers or senior centers.

Food For All funding to CAFB is being generated by Giant Food, Landover, Md. The supermarket has been a partner with Food For All for eight years and runs its campaign under the Good Neighbor Food and Funds drive. From 2002 through the present, CAFB reports receiving $1.8 million from Giant's Good Neighbor campaign. In addition, during the same period it received 433,000 pounds of food from Giant Food.

The chain's partnership with CAFB goes back 25 years, said Giant Food spokesman Jamie Miller. “We support them not just through various in-store promotions and food drives, but we also provide technical support to them, and Giant management has serviced on their board of directors,” he said.

Giant Food kicked off this year's food drive on Oct. 31, and so far Miller reports initial numbers are positive. The chain is advertising the campaign in the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post. It has also beefed up communication about the program internally.

The U.S. Census states that over 633,000 people are at risk of hunger in the Washington area. According to Hair, the food bank is reaching 383,000 people.

While still early in the season, CAFB is running about 10% behind its projections for the year, but still ahead of last year's numbers. Hair said corporate and foundation giving is down but individual giving is up. The food bank's annual budget is $8.9 million.

Campaigns like Food For All are important, Hair said, noting that the Washington area is food poor when it comes to sourcing. Regulations stipulate the food bank can't go outside its designated area to source food.

“We are very dependent on grocery chains like Giant Food, Safeway, Whole Foods, Shoppers Food Warehouse,” she added. The good news is that the food bank runs efficiently with 92 cents of each dollar going directly to CAFB programs.