During September a local "bank" distributed 88,186 pounds of food, including baby food, vegetables, taco sauce and salad dressing, to several area charities. Next month, thanks to the final passage last Thursday of the District's "Good Faith Food Donor and Donee Act of 1981," the bank -- Capital Area Community Food Bank -- hopes to surpass that figure.
CACFB began operations about 18 months ago in a warehouse at 2266 25th Pl. NE. The nonprofit bank collects overstocked or slightly damaged food products in large quantities from area grocery retailers and wholesalers, leaning heavily on recognized names such as Safeway and Giant. A large proportion of the food salvaged would otherwise have been discarded by these merchants. Through a network of 130 member agencies, CACFB distributes the food without charge to thousands of needy people in the area.
"In the past, donors have expressed two main fears," said executive director Richard Stack. "One -- 'Will the product re-enter the market?' and two, 'liability.' "
To counter the first fear, Stack, his four employes and half a dozen volunteers stamp individual products leaving the CACFB warehouse with the word "DONATED." This prevents any returning of an item to a store for refund or reselling the product for profit. As to the second fear, "we have all our agencies sign a waiver of liability," said Stack, "but the passage of this legislation is a more thorough protection." The recent Good Faith legislation puts the force of law behind these waivers.
Food banks are a relatively recent phenomenon, boosted significantly by federal legislation passed five years ago, which allows donors to deduct the wholesale value plus half the anticipated retail markup of food contributions. The concept originated in Phoenix about 15 years ago, and has since spread across the country.
According to Stack, the city legislation could not have come at a better time. "With the recent cuts in the federal budget, many more needy individuals will be turning to the private sector for help," he said. "I think this is both an opportunity and a challenge for the food industry to offer dramatic proof that it can respond to public problems."
The 1976 Tax Reform Act sections governing charitable contributions made it better business to "donate rather than dump" surplus and salvageable goods, Stack said. "CACFB has the transportation and handling capabilities to make contributing convenient. And now, with the passage of the Good Faith legislation, there's really no reason not to donate unwanted inventory and let the food bank turn what would otherwise go to waste into good, useable food."
To finance its operations, CACFB charges its member agencies 10 cents a pound for the food it dispenses. Among these area agencies are SOME (So Others Might Eat), Alexandria's United Community Ministries and "the whole gambit of social concerns." Stack said the food bank is "about two-thirds self-sufficient." Other funds come from the United Way, national religious denominations and local foundations and churches.
"We have our fingers in just about every available pie," Stack said with a laugh. "Except the ones we ship out."