Two Projects That Transformed Food Banking Globally

GFN’s Early Days : Steered By a Visionary Leader

Bob in Columbia with truck
Bob Forney in Colombia with the local food bank’s volunteers and staff
In 2006 Bob Forney, a longtime humanitarian and anti-hunger activist, was scheduled to retire. Yet his passion to fight hunger and food waste through food banking was too great. Bob, who passed away in 2010, wanted to expand the food-banking concept and take it global. And so he, along with Bill Rudnick and joined by Chris Rebstock, started an international nonprofit to create and support food banking – The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN). For Bob, retirement could wait. Like all start-ups, the organization experienced challenges in its initial stages. But Bob’s deep passion for helping the hungry, expertise in food banking, solid relationships, and knack for good storytelling helped the organization meet those challenges and more. “Bob was an eternal optimist,” said Bill Rudnick, GFN Co-Founder and Board Member. “He had a vision, and he saw the world as full of resources to achieve that vision and full of people who could help him. He didn’t get bogged down with bad news or slowed down by obstacles. He was always moving forward, dragging the rest of us forward with him. Bob was inspiring, and it was my honor and joy to work with him for many years.” As GFN approaches its 10-year anniversary in July, we take a look at two projects that Bob steered and how they changed the course of international food banking and helped GFN become the organization it is today. Building a food bank system from the ground up Prior to GFN, Bob was President & CEO of America’s Second Harvest (now Feeding America), the USA’s national network of food banks. While there, he established strong relationships with representatives from the private, public, and nonprofit sectors. These relationships later benefited GFN and the organization’s efforts to expand food banking into other countries. The creation of a food bank network in South Africa was an example of this, and this project ultimately played a pivotal role in elevating GFN’s work in the future. In 2007 representatives from The Kellogg Company, who had worked with Bob previously, contacted him to discuss setting up a food bank in South Africa. Around the same time, a local NGO, Joint Aid Management, approached Bob with a similar initiative in mind. And just like that, GFN had its first full-scale project for creating a food banking system from the ground up. What followed was an intense, two-year project with GFN staff helping to establish a coalition of companies, government officials, and local charities to help a national food bank network off the ground.
GFN’s Chris Rebstock and Bob Forney in South Africa in 2007.
“That might sound easy. It wasn’t. Bob and Chris needed perseverance to create awareness and to gather support for food banking. It was even tougher for them to spur collaboration among many good people already providing food support, but wary of change. Bob’s favorite expression, ‘feeding people is not a competitive sport,’ resonated. Ultimately several feeding schemes agreed to merge to form a national food banking network,” said Alan Gilbertson, current Director of FoodBank South Africa and GFN Board Member. The hard work paid off. In early 2009 the national network, FoodBank South Africa, was launched. By the end of that year food banks were already established in four cities. Today FoodBank South Africa distributes enough food to provide roughly 12 million meals a year. “This undertaking took intense effort. Bob, Chris, and others spent extensive time in South Africa for weeks at a time,” recalled Cathe Wood, GFN Director of Donor Relations, who joined the organization in 2009, just as the first four food banks were starting up. Cathe acknowledged that the launch of FoodBank South Africa was one of the most impactful moments during her time with the organization. But this was just the beginning of GFN’s work to establish more food banks around the world, and Chris credited Bob for not allowing the organization to rest on its laurels shortly after South Africa’s success. “After South Africa, Bob really walked us through the process of evaluating ourselves – reviewing our ‘lessons learned’ in the South Africa project, determining how to modify the process to be more efficient, and understanding how to replicate it in other countries,” said Chris, currently GFN’s Senior Vice President, Network Development. The South Africa project eventually became the model for future projects to establish new food banks. GFN’s Feasibility Analysis Toolkit, a guide for assessing the feasibility of food banking in a community/country and an outline for developing a business plan, was designed around the South Africa experience. Success in providing training to food bankers “If Bob were to see the Food Bank Leadership Institute (FBLI) today, he would be absolutely ecstatic and very proud! For good reason – FBLI, GFN’s flagship annual event, has come a long way since its inception, and its potential to advance food banking around the world is greater than ever. FBLI is an example of Bob’s vision becoming a reality,” remarked Pat Tracy, Chairman of GFN’s Board.
bob at first fbli
Bob Forney speaking at the first Food Bank Leadership Institute.
In 2007 Bob and the GFN staff worked with partners at H-E-B in San Antonio, Texas to organize a weeklong workshop titled “Introduction to Food Sourcing.” The workshop aimed to help food bankers build strong partnerships with the food industry and to find creative ways to access more and different kinds of food. Speakers from H-E-B, The Kellogg Company, and GFN staff provided best practices and tips on how food banks can work more effectively with food companies. Approximately 25 people from nine countries attended the first workshop at H-E-B’s corporate headquarters in San Antonio. “For the first two years, FBLI was all about sourcing food. Then we decided to broaden the subject matter to include topics like fundraising, how to start a food bank, building a national network, public policy initiatives to support food banking, among others,” said Chris. In 2009 GFN transformed the Introduction to Food Sourcing Workshop and changed its name to the H-E-B/GFN Food Bank Leadership Institute, the name it carries to this day. Over the years, FBLI’s curriculum expanded, and additional sessions were added to promote other initiatives, such as regional collaboration. Past FBLI attendees have started food banks in their own home, expanded their current operations, and developed new partnerships. GFN’s next FBLI will take place in March 2016, and more than 70 food bank leaders and food industry leaders from 35 countries are expected to attend. Beyond 10 Years While the organization may look different today than it did a few years before, its mission remains the same: to alleviate global hunger and reduce food waste through food banking. Food banking will continue to change lives. As GFN enters a new decade, we will continue to establish new initiatives and make new commitments that will strengthen food banking, alleviate global hunger and fight food waste.