Prior to founding St. Mary’s Food Bank, John van Hengel lived in Phoenix and volunteered at St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen. Van Hengel spent much of his time collecting food to supply the soup kitchen and donating the surplus to the homeless throughout the city. Eventually, he was introduced to a struggling mother of ten who used the food thrown out by grocery stores to feed her children. She expressed her desire for a place where unwanted food could be collected and given to the hungry, much like a bank collects and distributes money.

After searching through dumpsters and noting that much of the discarded food was still edible, van Hengel decided to establish a “food bank” where unwanted food would be gathered in large quantities. St. Mary’s Basilica of Phoenix loaned van Hengel $3,000 and provided him with an abandoned bakery to operate out of. With that, St. Mary’s Food Bank was founded in 1967 and named after the basilica in honor of their contribution.

St. Mary’s developed partnerships with grocery stores, food producers, and social welfare organizations throughout Phoenix. By acting as a clearinghouse for these partner organizations, St. Mary’s distributed over 250,000 lb (120 short tons) of food in its first year. That number increased to “about a million pounds of food” by the end of 1968, according to van Hengel.With limited financial resources, St. Mary’s relied heavily on volunteers to operate, and focused on obtaining food rather than monetary donations.

By 1975, the concept of food banking had gained popularity in other parts of the United States. Van Hengel was offered a federal grant to help spread the food banking concept across the country and left St. Mary’s to form the organization known today as Feeding America. He returned to St. Mary’s in 1982, while also working as a consultant for new food bank operations as the concept spread worldwide.

Since its creation, St. Mary’s has expanded its operations to nine of Arizona’s fifteen counties, distributing millions of pounds of food to the hungry each year. St. Mary’s also operates its own food pantry, allowing people to get food directly from the warehouse. The organization additionally offers specialized programs apart from food banking, including after-school programs for children and career training for adults.

St. Mary’s is a member of Feeding America, a network of hunger-relief organizations also founded by van Hengel with the purpose of providing food to people across the country.

According to en.wikipedia.org. Source of photos: internet