SINCE the first prepared food programs (PFPs) started up in the '80s, ``there's been a whole spinoff of replicated programs,'' says Dick Goebel, executive director of the St. Paul (Minn.) Food Bank. In 1988 there were only about 15 programs; now there are more than 50 nationwide, he says. The big operations - including New York City, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Tuscon, Chicago, Dallas, Boston, Tulsa, and St. Paul - may distribute from 150 to more than 350 tons of food a year. The Food Research and Action Center in Washington, D.C., says 32 million people live in poverty in the United States. Not all are hungry, but many are at risk or go hungry sometimes.
Although demand for emergency food is still rising (more women and children), enough food exists to feed the hungry say observers. The problem is getting the food to them.
As a response to hunger, PFPs are ``really catching on nationwide,'' says Laura Perille, director of Second Helping in Boston.
``The PFP meets our mission, which is to feed people and minimize waste,'' says Dick Goebel of the St. Paul Food Bank, which runs Twelve Baskets, a PFP. The type and extent of service provided by PFPs varies by community, says Linda Saran, communications director for Second Harvest in Chicago, a national food bank network: ``At the national level we're in the process of researching the PFP and what sort of training and guidelines need to be instituted.'' Second Harvest's network has of 185 food banks serving 40,000 agencies.
``There's unlimited potential because there are always food industries that specifically cook in bulk,'' says John Mooney, spokesman for nine-year-old City Harvest in New York, considered the first PFP. Caterers are especially good sources; restaurants, on the other hand, tend to cook to order. Commercial photography yields a surprising amount of food, too, Mr. Mooney says: There may be ``piles and pyramids'' of, say, ice cream left over after a commercial is shot.
For more information about prepared food programs, write: Twelve Baskets, 1140 Gervais Ave., Maplewood, MN 55109.