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 Food Bank in 1967. He had been volunteering at a local 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, so he came up with the idea of a “Food Bank,” where individuals and companies with excess food could “deposit” it, and those in need could “withdraw” it.
His local parish, St. Mary’s Basilica in downtown Phoenix, gave him $3,000 and an abandoned building where he was able to turn his dream into reality, and in gratitude, he named his food bank “St. Mary’s.” He then went on to become the founder of several other food banks across the country and even founded the national organization America’s Second Harvest (known today as Feeding America). Years later, van Hengel also founded the Global Food Banking network. John van Hengel is rightly referred to as “the father of food banking” with it starting right here at St. Mary’s Food Bank in Phoenix, Arizona.
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.