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How does $1 become six meals?

Biggest expense is transportation — not food

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Posted: Friday, December 21, 2012 2:54 pm

 While you are out shopping or picking up groceries, you are likely to see a sign from the Food Bank, advertising its ability to turn $1 into six meals for people in need. After seeing this, two questions might run through many people’s minds — how is that possible, and how can I manage that for myself?

 It’s not magic — it’s just efficiency. Unfortunately, the same tactics that work for the food bank are unlikely to work for you at home. “Our leveraging ratio is really based upon our ability to get donated food products into our area and we pay for transportation on that food,” said Kara Ross, vice president of the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan.

 Donations make up a large amount of what the food bank holds in stock. Most often, the money will not go to food, but instead toward getting that food to those who need it. “If Nabisco or Campbell Soup wants to donate products to us, we just have to arrange for transportation to get it here,” Ross said.

 Each year, the food bank performs an audit to see how much food they are able to get, and what their costs will be to procure that food to determine how many meals they can transform that single dollar into.

 Food from businesses is only one way in which the food bank obtains their food. “We get food from a variety of sources. Some food comes from the USDA, some is donated, some comes from FEMA,” said Ross. “We do purchase some products, but it is very minimal, and it is mostly to keep things that our agencies are accustomed to having in stock during those lulls when we don’t get those products coming through.”

 Items the food bank tries to keep in stock are meal type items according to Ross. Beef stew, soups, canned meats, fruits and vegetables. “Staple items so that if those things aren’t donated they are still available here for people to get,” she said.

 Donated items from businesses can take many different forms. “We do see a lot of seasonal type products that they can’t sell in the store. The Cap’n Crunch with his Santa hat on will come to us in January for example,” Ross said. After the Atkins diet craze came to a close, the food banks received a lot of Atkins products, such as dressings. While it may be out of vogue, Ross said it is still a very viable product. “It’s still food,” she said.

 While a lot of money goes to arranging transportation and maintenance on their fleet of vehicles, Ross said that the food bank has very low administrative overhead. “Basically each year we typically have only a 2-percent administrative cost for our administration. So 98 percent of every dollar is going right back to that mission of feeding people.”

 The key to getting so much bang for their buck is in the food bank’s efficiency. The Food Bank of Eastern Michigan serves 22 counties, though they only have the one location in Flint, and ship to each county twice a month.

 “We will have one drop zone in each county where agencies can come and meet our truck,” Ross said. “We don’t have two or three satellite hubs or buildings to maintain and take care for — we basically just have a truck and a truck driver.”

 Ross said that in the 15 years with the food bank, she has seen it grow and evolve internally to make them more efficient at their job. The organization runs on fewer than 60 employees who manage to deliver 21 million pounds of food to eastern Michigan every year.

 “Our warehouse typically holds a million and a half pounds of food at any given time and it is usually out of here within one month,” Ross said.

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