A hungry, young mother. A man with a mission. And a new goal.
These were the beginnings of the world’s first food bank. John van Hengel founded St. Mary’s in 1967. He had been volunteering at the St. Vincent DePaul soup kitchen, serving dinner to those in need when a young mother told him that she depended on soup kitchens and food from grocery store dumpsters to feed her children. Van Hengel’s heart was broken. His conversation with the young woman ignited a desire to help hungry families like hers, Van Hengel came up with the idea of a food bank, where individuals and companies with excess money and food could “deposit” it, and those in need could “withdraw” it.
His local parish, St. Mary’s Basilica, gave him $3,000 and an abandoned building where he was able to turn his dream into reality, and in gratitude, he named his organization “St. Mary’s.” Inspired by his accomplishments, cities nationwide began opening food banks to feed those in need. Van Hengel’s devotion to feeding the hungry has inspired the opening thousands of food banks around the world.
Today, St. Mary’s Food Bank is one of the largest food banks in the United States, and proud of the impact it has had on Arizona — and the world.