Photo courtesy of Midwest Food Bank

Photo courtesy of Midwest Food Bank

Sometimes the best solution to a problem is another problem. Such is the case with hunger and food waste.

Consider the facts: 14 percent of American households, representing nearly 50 million people, are “food insecure,” according to the non-profit Feeding America. At the same time, USDA research shows that 31 percent of the edible food in U.S. supermarkets and restaurants was thrown away uneaten. (And that’s not counting food wasted en route from field to retailer.)

In other words, ending hunger is as easy as getting perfectly good food that’s currently thrown away into the hands of people who need it. It turns out that’s not as easy as it sounds, but a handful of organizations are leading the way in doing exactly that.

One of these organizations is the Midwest Food Bank, with headquarters in Bloomington, Illinois. The organization was founded in 2003 by farmer David Kieser as a way to distribute extra produce from his farm to a handful of area food pantries in his home county of McLean. Today, the food bank distributes to more than 1,050 pantries across 4 states. In 2015, the organization distributed more than 60 million pounds of food.

Kieser’s food bank focuses on free distribution and uses an extensive volunteer network to keep costs low. The volume of food these volunteers handle is generally measured not in pounds but in tons, so volunteer truckers are key to picking up and delivering food that would otherwise go to waste. On the receiving end, only non-profit food pantries are eligible to take part; none of the food may be re-sold.

Recently, the Midwest Food Bank has launched a new program designed to help school children eat well on weekends. The program, which serves some 2,300 students at 27 schools, sends kids home with a backpack full of food every Friday. This plan is especially important for underprivileged students who rely on free or reduced-cost school breakfasts and lunches as a key component of their nutritional intake.

While the organization has expanded at a rapid pace, the need is even greater; hunger remains a persistent problem. When natural disaster strikes, the food bank sends truckloads of food to help bridge the gap in services to the stricken communities. And last year, the organization launched an international program based in Kenya.

But while the program has grown exponentially from the days when it operated out of Kieser’s barn, its goals and values have remained the same.

“When your goal is to reach out to those who need a hand and genuinely care for them in love, you not only help them physically, but also spiritually and emotionally,” Kieser explains. “We understand the ups and downs of life and realize that any one of us could be in that position.”

Organic Valley is committed to supporting its local communities and is happy to sponsor Midwest Food Bank for its impact on the lives of community members.