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CAFB Commemorates 32nd Anniversary on MLK Jr.'s Birthday

By Lynn Brantley January 13, 2012

Thirty-two years ago on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday – January 15 – the Capital Area Food Bank opened its doors in response to an immediate need in the Washington metro area.  The idea for the food bank was conceived a year earlier by the Interfaith Conference and the United Planning Organization in response to spiraling interest rates and a lackluster economy.  At the same time, the federal government began cutting back its food stamp program. As the food bank’s founders, we firmly believed that hunger relief provided by the food bank would be temporary.
Today, the need for the Capital Area Food Bank is greater than ever.  Hunger in the region has increased by over 25 percent and is persistent.  It’s an absolute tragedy that what started as a temporary relief effort has become a community institution.
In 1980, we were determined to strengthen and expand the network of community-based social service agencies that provided food and assistance to the needy.  The answer was a region-wide food bank that would have the ability to collect, store and distribute items. Last year, the CAFB distributed 30 million pounds of food, including 15 million pounds of fresh produce, through over 700 partner agencies located throughout the Washington metro region.
 As we face another dramatic increase in hunger Annie Gowen reminds in a recent Washington Post article, “About two-thirds of the public now believes there are strong conflicts between the rich and poor in America, making class a likelier source of tension than traditional flash points of race or nationality, a study from the Pew Research Center found.”
In response to this critical situation, the Capital Area Food Bank began construction on a new $37 million distribution center in January of 2011 that will enable us to double our current storage and distribution capacity over time. When the new facility is complete this June, the Capital Area Food Bank will relocate to Puerto Rico Ave., NE – a short walk from our current warehouse on Taylor Street, NE.
 A bigger facility means that we can distribute a higher quantity and quality of food.  It also means that our nutrition education and outreach programs, which address the root causes of hunger, can be expanded.  Our new warehouse space will be a large as two football fields, twice the size of our current space.  This means we can eventually accept and distribute twice as much food to our neighbors.
 Features and fixtures such as motion sensor lights, low-flow faucets, and solar panels – donated by BP – mean over $70,000 in energy cost savings per year – savings that leave us with more resources to help our neighbors.
 Many of our 700 partner agencies are very small nonprofit groups with few resources available to develop their own capacities to serve clients.  Our new Technology and Resource Center will house stations where agencies can place online food orders and apply for grants via the web.
With room to grow our base of volunteers – currently over 14,000 – we can provide them with special stations for sorting food.  They can place rice, beans and other nutritious bulk items into small containers for easy client access.
 New space will be provided for classrooms, along with commercial and teaching kitchens. The Kids Cafe program can provide a greater variety of after-school meals and snacks.  More seniors will receive much needed food through the Brown Bag Program.
We are grateful for the opportunity of providing an essential community service to the Washington metro area for the past 32 years. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his words have always inspired me.  Now, more than ever, they guide us and our mission, “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”