Food Distribution


ImpactMatters measures the success of a food distribution program as its cost to provide a meal to a person in need. Using “a meal provided” as the metric of analysis is second best because it takes no account of the hunger experienced by the population served or the quality of the meal. But “a meal provided” does capture an important benefit and, important, is routinely reported (unlike quality-focused outcomes). As datasets improve over time, more sophisticated measures of outcomes will emerge. To that end, we plan to research:

  1. The nutritional quality of meals provided;

  2. The impact on hunger and household savings;

  3. The effect of co-locating other social services with food distribution programs.

We welcome your feedback on how we can better represent the work of food distribution in our methodology and on what resources we could provide to help nonprofits report the necessary data.


ImpactMatters generates estimates of impact — estimates that quantify the causal effect nonprofits have on social outcomes relative to cost. For example: a nonprofit provides a meal to a person in need for $3. Our estimates incorporate best principles in social science, described in our Impact Methodology.

This document describes our methodology for estimating the cost-effectiveness of nonprofit food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens — referred to collectively as “food distribution programs.” We describe the three program types; the outcome by which we measure their impact; our methodology for estimating the cost-effectiveness of food distribution programs; common reasons for variation in cost-effectiveness; and a checklist of data required from nonprofits to calculate cost-effectiveness.


The three main types of food distribution programs are food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens. Food banks collect, warehouse and distribute food to front-line organizations like food pantries and soup kitchens. Food banks themselves do not usually distribute food directly to those in need.1 Food pantries put together packages of unprepared food items (groceries) and distribute them directly to beneficiaries to be consumed off-site.2 At some pantries, beneficiaries can choose which food items to take. Finally, soup kitchens, also known as meal programs, prepare and serve meals directly to beneficiaries. Meals may be consumed on-site or off-site. The beneficiaries of food distribution programs are usually people facing hunger, poverty, or both. [For a comprehensive list of types of food distribution programs, see Appendix.]


A meal provided to a person in need
Final outcomes: Reduced hunger and increased disposable income

We measure the success of food distribution programs as their cost to provide a meal to a person in need. A meal provided is what we would ordinarily call an “output” — a measure of the completion of activities designed to help beneficiaries achieve outcomes. We choose to estimate cost-effectiveness using the cost of a meal provided for four reasons. First, the output is highly correlated with two important final outcomes: (a) hunger averted among beneficiaries served by the food distribution program and (b) the boost to disposable income among beneficiaries because they can spend less money on food. Second, we have the best data on meals provided, enabling us to reach reliable conclusions for a large number of food distribution programs. Third, the most common metric reported by food distribution programs is the number of meals provided, signaling that the metric is important to nonprofits as a measure of their success. Finally, a meal in and of itself is usually good, by contrast to some other outputs, such as job training, that are valuable only in service of a final outcome.

Using “meals provided to a person in need” as the metric of analysis is second best. Ideally, we would combine the benefits of both increased disposable income and reduced hunger and compare to costs. However, we lack the data necessary to do so. Each food distribution program serves a mix of beneficiaries with differing needs — some are hungry while others are poor but not hungry — and we have little data to understand those differences. For example, we don’t know whether and how many households served by the food distribution program under review would, in its absence, tap other sources of free food. Said another way, we don’t have data on counterfactual hunger — hunger that would prevail in the absence of the food distribution program under review. We have somewhat more data for disposable income. We can calculate the cost for a low income person to buy a meal in that city, and then use that to estimate the savings caused by the food organization. However, with this metric alone, we fail to capture the anti-hunger benefits of food distribution programs. We believe “meals provided to a person in need” is the best metric given the circumstance.

Methodology for estimating attributable outcomes

We estimate the causal effect of a food distribution program on the outcome defined above: meals provided to a person in need. To do so, we count up the number of meals (or bundles of groceries, each equivalent to a meal) that the nonprofit reported distributing in a given timeframe. Then, we apply four assumptions:

  1. The number of meals provided equals the number of meals eaten.

  2. The meals provided by neighboring food distribution programs are equivalent; we assume no important quality differences among food distribution programs. If so, then meals provided per dollar is a valuable metric. See Variation in cost-effectiveness estimates below for how we address this possible oversimplification of the outcome.

  3. The distribution of a meal from Food Bank ABC does not diminish the amount of food distributed by any other (neighboring) food distribution program — a plausible assumption for redistributive programs (“transfer programs”). This “counterfactual” assumption about the amount of food distributed in the absence of the program under review implies that the benefit of a meal to a beneficiary in need constitutes a net gain; the gain is not offset by reductions in food provided to other beneficiaries in need.

  4. We assume that other food distribution programs have no additional food to spare. Friends and family of program beneficiaries also have no additional food to spare. Therefore, in the absence of the food distribution program under review, program beneficiaries would not be able to obtain more meals from other charitable sources.

In algebra, we calculate the attributable outcomes of a food distribution program (O) is:

O = M - C
M = Number of meals distributed by the program
C = Change in the number of meals that program beneficiaries would have received from other charitable sources in the absence of the program under review This is assumed to be zero.

Methodology for estimating cost

Below, we summarize the most important aspects of our methodology for estimating the costs of food distribution programs. For a detailed discussion of what sources of data we use, how we treat specific line items and accommodate variation in accounting practices, see Reference Manual on Data Analysis.

Costs we include

ImpactMatters estimates cost-effectiveness from the perspective of a socially minded donor. This means we count all important costs associated with a program regardless of who incurred them. Generally, the key cost-bearing parties are: the nonprofit itself; organizations with which it partners to run a program; the government (taxpayers); and the nonprofit’s beneficiaries.

Nonprofit costs

Food distribution programs are largely non-cash operations. The majority of their revenues tend to be in-kind donations of food, and the majority of their expenses is the value of food distributed. Nonprofits frequently report in-kind donations valued at fair market value, or other standard values, as part of audited financials and the Form 990, per generally accepted accounting practices.

We generally assign a cost of $0 to any donated food on the assumption that it would otherwise have gone to waste. However, we count the fair market value of that food if there is reason to believe it is possible the donor would otherwise sell that food at a non-zero price. For more details, see Impact Methodology.

Many food distribution programs benefit from unskilled labor provided for free by volunteers. We generally assign a cost of $0 to unskilled volunteer time because we believe volunteers benefit in important non-monetary ways — fulfillment, for instance, in supporting a cause they are passionate about.

Many nonprofits run supplementary programs in addition to their core food distribution operation. These non-food distribution programs include nutrition education, public benefits assistance, case management, job training, partner capacity building, food voucher programs and disaster relief. We cannot count the outcomes from these programs and so we exclude the programs from our analysis. To do so, we need to ensure we are not inadvertently counting the costs of these programs when totaling the cost for the nonprofit’s food distribution operation. If we can find the cost of these supplementary programs, we remove them directly the program cost figure we are using. Often, we only know that the program cost figure includes costs for these supplementary programs — not exactly what those costs are. In this case, we assume that 5 percent of the total program cost was spent on each supplementary program. We deduct this 5 percent from the program cost figure for each supplementary program. For example, if a nonprofit provides nutrition education and case management, we deduct 10 percent of its program costs.

Some nonprofits generate revenue from their food distribution activities. For example, a food bank may sell some of its unused food inventory to non-beneficiaries. In cases like this, we deduct program revenue from program costs because that revenue offsets the cost of running the program.

All other direct, monetary costs incurred by the nonprofit to run its food distribution program are included in our calculation, e.g., purchased food, refrigeration, warehousing, program staff salaries.

Partner organization costs

Food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens each exist along a supply chain that links food to the beneficiaries who consume it. In estimating the cost-effectiveness of a food bank, we must take account of the costs incurred by the kitchens and pantries that receive food from the food bank and deliver that food to beneficiaries. Similarly, in estimating the cost-effectiveness of a kitchen or pantry, we must take account of the costs incurred by the food bank that supplies their food.3


To estimate the costs of a given food bank’s distribution partners (soup kitchens and food pantries), we use a standard cost per meal calculated from a sample of soup kitchens and food pantries: just under $2 per meal. In other words, for every meal (or meal-equivalent bundle of groceries) that a food bank supplies to its distribution partners, its distribution partners collectively incur $2 to deliver that meal to a beneficiary. For a detailed explanation of how we calculated the $2 figure, see Reference Manual on Data Analysis. We use a similar method to estimate the costs incurred by the sourcing partner (food bank) of a given pantry or kitchen, explained in Reference Manual on Data Analysis.

We assume there is no inventory loss when food travels between the food bank, its distribution partners and beneficiaries. We think this is a reasonable assumption because one of the core functions of a food bank is to sort donated foods so that only acceptable items are distributed to food pantries and soup kitchens.4

Government costs

Many food distribution programs receive food (called “commodities”) at no charge from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A.). The U.S.D.A. also provides cash grants to offset the costs to nonprofits of distributing those commodities. We assume these government resources have an opportunity cost: The commodities themselves could have positive resale value and the cash grants could have been spent on other social programs. Note this is unlike our approach to donated food from individuals and corporations, to which we assign a $0 cost, as explained above.

We calculate the cost per pound of commodities provided by the government to nonprofits using data from the U.S.D.A. Food and Nutrition Service.5 The Food and Nutrition Service annually reports the total pounds of commodities distributed, the value of those commodities6 and the Federal government’s expenditure on program administration.

Beneficiary costs

With the exception of some congregate meal programs, most food distribution programs do not charge beneficiaries. If no information to the contrary is provided by the nonprofit, we assume beneficiaries incur no cost.

Methodology for calculating impact

To calculate the impact of a food distribution program, we divide the total program-related costs incurred by all cost-bearing parties by the total number of meals the program provided to people in need. Crucially, the numerator and denominator must match logically: The numerator reflects the costs incurred in generating the attributable outcomes reflected by the denominator.

Cost-effectiveness benchmarks

We determine whether a food distribution program is cost-effective by asking whether there is a clear better alternative use of resources to achieve the same end. Specifically, we consider the following thought exercise: A nonprofit could spend programmatic resources to provide a meal to a beneficiary or, alternatively, that beneficiary could purchase a meal on the market. The nonprofit’s program is therefore cost-effective if its cost to provide a meal is lower than the price a beneficiary would have to pay to obtain a meal on the market.

The price of a meal varies around the country so we apply different cost-effectiveness benchmarks to each nonprofit based on the average price of a meal in the nonprofit’s service area. To calculate the average meal price within a given nonprofit’s service area, we use county-specific meal prices as reported in Feeding America’s 2017 Map the Meal Gap dataset.7 This dataset estimates meal prices by adjusting the national average meal cost with county-specific cost-of-food indices. We then identify the counties within a nonprofit’s service area and apply the appropriate meal prices.

Following ImpactMatters conventions for services that are life-critical (e.g., emergency food distribution, clean water), we set benchmarks such that programs receive 5 stars if they provide a meal for less than 75 percent of the estimated market price and 4 stars if they do so for less than 125 percent.

Take the following example: A nonprofit distributes meals within County X and County Y. The average price of a meal is $2 in County X and $6 in County Y. Therefore, the average meal price across both counties — the nonprofit’s service area — is $4. This is the benchmark against which we compare the nonprofit’s cost. If it costs the nonprofit more than $5 to distribute one meal, it would receive 3 stars because that is more than 125% of the average meal price (125% * $4 = $5). If it costs the nonprofit less than $3.00, then it would receive 5 stars (75% * $4 = $3). For anything in between, the nonprofit would receive 4 stars.

Nonprofit checklist of data needed to calculate impact

The following data is necessary to estimate the impact of food distribution programs.

Table 1

Checklist item

Required from nonprofit?


Program activities


A program is a set of goods or services provided by the nonprofit to a population of beneficiaries with the goal of improving one or more outcomes. Generally, a program consists of the same components delivered to each beneficiary, with only minor deviations across different settings.



This refers to the program’s area of operation rather than where the nonprofit’s headquarters are located, if the two are different. We recommend specifying the program’s geography at the county or city level, which allows us to make any necessary adjustments for cost of living across geographies.

Beneficiary type


We recommend nonprofits provide at least basic descriptors of their target beneficiary populations (e.g., age, gender, income level, employment status).



We recommend nonprofits report annual figures that align with their fiscal year.

Number of meals or ‘meal-equivalents’ distributed


For soup kitchens: We recommend reporting meals provided by the soup kitchen. “Seconds”, leftovers, snacks or beverages should not be counted as separate meals. We do not require soup kitchens to report the number of individuals served.

For food pantries and food banks: We recommend reporting equivalent “meals” that can be made using groceries distributed by the pantry or bank. Many food pantries and food banks convert the amount of food items they distribute into equivalent “meals” using the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s estimate of the average weight of a meal (1.2 pounds 8) — a methodology Feeding America also adopts.9 We accept this accounting.

Total program costs related to food distribution


We recommend reporting total program costs related to food distribution. For nonprofits that run multiple food distribution programs (e.g., a soup kitchen and a food pantry), costs need not be separated by program. Neither do food banks need to separate their costs to run partner distribution programs versus direct distribution programs.

Value and amount of donated food distributed


The value of donated food distributed is subtracted from total program costs (see above Methodology for estimating cost).

Value and amount of government commodities distributed


The value of government commodities distributed is subtracted from total program costs to avoid double-counting (i.e., to avoid assigning the cost to both the nonprofit and the government) (see above Methodology for estimating cost). The amount of government commodities distributed (in pounds) is used to estimate government costs (see below Government costs).

Beneficiary costs


We recommend reporting beneficiary costs if they are substantial. They can be estimated at $0 if they are not substantial.

Proportion of food sourced from or distributed through partners


For soup kitchens and food pantries: We recommend reporting the proportion of total food distributed that was sourced from food banks. This is used to calculate Partner costs. If the proportion is unknown, we apply a standard proportion calculated from a sample of soup kitchens and food pantries (explained in Reference Manual on Data Analysis).

For food banks: We recommend reporting the proportion of food distributed that was distributed through soup kitchens and food pantries not run by the food bank itself (i.e., partner-distributed food). This is used to calculate Partner costs. If the proportion is unknown, we apply a standard proportion calculated from a sample of food banks (explained in Reference Manual on Data Analysis).

Partner costs


For soup kitchens and food pantries: We calculate the cost incurred by the partner food bank by multiplying the average food bank’s cost per meal-equivalent by the proportion of meals or meal-equivalents that the kitchen or pantry put together using items from a food bank.

For food banks: We calculate the cost incurred by partner kitchens and pantries by multiplying the average cost per meal of a food pantry or soup kitchen by the number of meal-equivalents that the food bank under analysis distributed through partners. See Reference Manual on Data Analysis for details.

Government costs


For food banks: The amount of government commodities distributed by the program (in pounds) is multiplied by the government’s average cost per pound of commodities to calculate the government’s total contribution to the program. The average cost per pound figure includes both the value of the commodities themselves as well as administrative expenses borne by the Federal government.10 See Reference Manual on Data Analysis for details.

Limitations of our analysis

Oversimplification of the outcome

Our standard outcome for a food distribution program is a meal provided to someone in need. But there can be substantial diversity in meals. Some are more nutritious than others, some more culturally appropriate, and some simply larger than the rest. As a result, our cost-effectiveness estimates capture the higher costs associated with better meals but not the corresponding benefit to beneficiaries, such as greater satiety and health. When this happens, we provide commentary alongside the nonprofit’s cost-effectiveness estimate and star rating. The commentary conveys the ways in which our standard outcome measure oversimplifies the nonprofit’s achievements and whether we think our rating understates the nonprofit’s impact as a result.

Multiple important outcomes

We estimate the cost-effectiveness of a nonprofit’s program on a single outcome that best aligns with its stated mission. However, a nonprofit’s program may be achieving other important outcomes that are not captured by our cost-effectiveness estimate. For instance, Meals on Wheels programs not only aim to deliver meals to homebound seniors, but also to reduce social isolation by encouraging interaction between seniors and the volunteers delivering their meals, and to prevent falls and other accidents in the home by providing home safety checks with each delivery. Each home delivery naturally costs more than a bag of unprepared ingredients handed out by a food pantry (the weight of the bag is equivalent to a meal and therefore counted as a meal by our methodology). As a result, the Meals on Wheels program appears less cost-effective than the food pantry.

We adjust our star rating upward only if the nonprofit provides evidence from an impact evaluation that its program is achieving other outcomes not typical of that type of program. An impact evaluation is a study of outcomes that takes account of the counterfactual (what would have happened in the absence of the program). [For a description of different types of impact evaluations, see Impact Methodology.]

Continuing the example above, we would adjust upward the star rating of the Meals on Wheels program if it had a study that found a decrease in the rate of falls over time among participating seniors compared to non-participating seniors. Another example that would warrant an upward adjustment: a program both provides meals and diverts food waste from landfills. It sources most of its food by “gleaning” unwanted food from farms, grocery stores and dining establishments. Food scraps that cannot be used in meals are turned into animal feed and any remaining food waste is composted. The nonprofit has conducted a study that shows, using a modeling tool developed by the Environmental Protection Agency, a substantial decrease in methane emissions as a result of its activities compared to a simulated scenario where food waste is disposed of in landfills.

Cost of reaching special locations

Food is priced and taxed differently in different parts of the country, making it more or less costly to run an identical food distribution program depending on where the nonprofit chooses to work. We calculate county-by-county cost-effectiveness benchmarks for food banks by adjusting the national average meal cost (calculated from Current Population Survey data) by county-specific cost-of-food indices (from Nielsen and Feeding America). This means comparing the cost-effectiveness estimate of a food bank in Clark County, Indiana, to a different benchmark than that used for a food bank in New York City.

Data quality

Our estimates rely on data made public by nonprofits on their websites, annual reports, financial statements and Form 990s. There are, of course, ambiguities in the data and our interpretation of the data may not always match the nonprofit’s intention. For instance, we sometimes need to use visual clues from the layout of an annual report to determine whether the total number of meals reportedly distributed by a food bank includes both meals distributed through partner organizations (soup kitchens and food pantries) and meals distributed directly by the food bank to pick-up or feeding sites (schools and senior centers). If ambiguities in the data are too large to be resolved with reasonable assumptions, we will not generate a cost-effectiveness estimate for that nonprofit.

For more detail on our sources of data and how we interpret them, please see Reference Manual on Data Analysis.

Representativeness of (analyzed) programs

We only issue ratings for nonprofits if we can perform analysis on 15 percent or more of the nonprofit’s total program budget. This approach means some nonprofits are rated on only some of their programs. The remaining programs, which we could not analyze, could be more or less cost-effective than the programs we analyzed.

Appendix: Common types of food distribution programs

Our methodology applies to programs where meal provision is a central rather than peripheral activity. We would not, for instance, apply this methodology to an all-day job training program for underemployed adults just because it provides lunch to participants.11

Food banks

Most food banks in the U.S. share a common program model: to serve as a warehouse where food donations are sorted, stored and distributed to front-line organizations. This model is commonly called “agency distribution” or “partner distribution,” and generally accounts for the majority of a food bank’s activities. Additionally, many food banks also run smaller programs targeted at specific populations like children, seniors and rural households. Here, distribution partners may be schools, senior centers, churches and community spaces where, for instance, the food bank can park a truck to distribute groceries. Some food banks directly distribute food to beneficiaries from their warehouse, but this is rare and usually smaller in scale than its other activities.

While most food banks follow this basic program model, they may differ along operational dimensions: scale of operation, source of food, type of warehousing facility and staffing.12 For instance, sources of food may include any combination of the following: fresh produce from farm overproduction; food items from manufacturer overproduction; leftover food from restaurants; food drives conducted by the general public; and commodities from the U.S. government.

Food pantries

Below, we describe the seven common types of food pantry programs for which we estimate impact.

Traditional food pantries

In traditional food pantries, pantry staff or volunteers prepare bags of groceries and distribute them to beneficiaries visiting the pantry.

Client-choice food pantries

In client-choice food pantries, beneficiaries choose their own groceries within pre-specified restrictions.

Home-delivery grocery programs

Home-delivery grocery programs deliver groceries to the homes of beneficiaries for whom accessing a food pantry is difficult. These beneficiaries are typically low-income homebound seniors or people with disabilities.

Mobile markets and pantries

Mobile markets and pantries provide groceries to beneficiaries during short-term visits to distribution sites. Unlike home-delivery grocery programs, mobile markets and pantries do not deliver groceries to people’s homes. Instead, mobile markets and pantries typically distribute pre-packed groceries from a truck or set up a pop-up pantry, often resembling a farmers market.

Targeted grocery programs

Targeted grocery programs distribute groceries to a pre-specified population, such as the elderly or children. The following food pantry programs — school pantry, out-of-school grocery program, and Commodity Supplemental Food Program — are forms of targeted grocery programs:

  • School pantry programs. School pantry programs target school students and their families by distributing groceries to beneficiaries in and during school.

  • Afterschool, weekend and summer grocery programs. Afterschool, weekend and summer grocery programs provide groceries to students, usually children, outside of school hours. One of the most common versions is the BackPack Program, a program model designed by Feeding America and adopted by over 100 nonprofits.13 The program is targeted at children who receive free or reduced-price meals during the school day, but may lack food over the weekend.

  • Commodity Supplemental Food Program. The Commodity Supplemental Food program (C.S.F.P.) is administered at the federal level by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which distributes both “food packages” and administrative funds to participating States.14 Food packages consist of a variety of nonperishable groceries designed by the U.S.D.A. to help seniors meet their nutritional needs. State agencies then distribute the food packages to local agencies, including nonprofits. Local agencies, in turn, distribute the food packages to low-income seniors who meet C.S.F.P. eligibility requirements.

Soup kitchens

Below, we describe the eight common types of soup kitchen programs for which we estimate impact.15

On-site meals

In an on-site meal program, hot meals are served to beneficiaries in a sit-down setting.

Brown bag meals

Brown bag meal programs distribute prepared meals to beneficiaries, to be consumed off-site. These are sometimes known as sack lunch or dinner programs.

Meal delivery programs

Meal delivery programs deliver prepared meals to people’s homes. A common form is Meals on Wheels programs, which deliver meals to seniors or other homebound individuals, such as people with disabilities.

Mobile kitchens

Mobile kitchens provide meals to beneficiaries during short-term visits to distribution sites. Unlike meal delivery programs, mobile kitchens do not deliver to people’s homes. Meals may be served directly from vehicles parked at a site (e.g., a food truck) or at a pop-up serving area (e.g., a pop-up soup kitchen hosted at an existing facility).

Targeted meal programs

Targeted meal programs provide meals to a pre-specified population, such as the elderly, the homeless or children. These programs often focus on averting hunger along with other related goals, such as improving attention and thus educational outcomes. Some do not, and simply target a population out of concern for that population. The following soup kitchen programs — congregate meals, shelter meal programs and children’s meal programs — are forms of targeted meal programs:

  • Congregate meals. Congregate meals are meals provided to the elderly in group settings. Congregate meals often have a combined aim of averting hunger, illness and social isolation.16 Some congregate meals request a small donation from participating seniors.

  • Shelter meal programs. Shelter meal programs provide meals only to guests of that homeless shelter. Because shelter guests typically lack access to food, hunger aversion is often the primary reason meal programs are added to a shelter.

  • After-school, weekend and summer meal programs. After-school, weekend and summer meal programs provide children with meals outside school hours. Common forms are the Summer Food Service Program, which is a federally-funded, state-administered program that reimburses nonprofits for providing meals to children living in low-income areas during summertime, 17 and Kids Cafe, a now widely adopted program first designed by Feeding America to provide year-round meals and snacks to children during after-school hours.18



Feeding America: What is a food bank?                                                                                                                                                                                                


Statistical Supplement to Household Food Security in the United States in 2017                                                                                                                                                                                                


By accounting for all costs incurred by a nonprofit and its partners along the supply chain, some of the very same costs and meals will be represented in different nonprofits’ cost-effectiveness estimates. For example, if Food Bank A partners with Soup Kitchen B to provide meals to those in need, our cost-effectiveness estimates for Food Bank A would account for the costs incurred by Soup Kitchen B to deliver the food provided by the food bank to beneficiaries as meals. A separate cost-effectiveness estimate of Soup Kitchen B would also account for the costs incurred by Food Bank A in collecting, warehousing and distributing food for the soup kitchen’s meals. This should not be interpreted as double counting; rather, each cost-effectiveness estimate captures the value added by each entity along the supply chain under analysis.                                                                                                                                                                                                


Moreover, the University of Wisconsin-Extension’s 2013 survey of 16 food pantries in Brown County, Wisconsin, Keep or Toss Survey for Foods Donated to Food Pantries, found that most non-perishable food that food pantries have to throw away come from community food drives and donations from individual households (rather than food banks).                                                                                                                                                                                                


U.S.D.A. Food and Nutrition Service: Food Distribution Program Tables                                                                                                                                                                                                


The reported value of commodities is the price at which the U.S.D.A. Agricultural Marketing Service purchased commodities from vendors of domestically-produced foods. According to the U.S.D.A.’s Procurement Procedures and Policies, purchases are made through a competitive bidding process. We therefore assume U.S.D.A. purchase prices are close to fair market value.                                                                                                                                                                                                


Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap                                                                                                                                                                                                


What We Eat in America by U.S.D.A. Agricultural Research Service                                                                                                                                                                                                


Feeding America FAQs: The Impact of Dollars Donated to Feeding America                                                                                                                                                                                                


We use the U.S.D.A.’s annual summary of Food and Nutrition Services programs to calculate the government’s average cost per pound of commodities for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) specifically, which tends to be the largest of U.S.D.A.’s food distribution programs. We do so by dividing the total cost of TEFAP by the total pounds distributed as part of TEFAP. The summary states: “Total cost includes commodities distributed (entitlement and bonus) and the Federal share of State admin. expenses. Emergency food assistance is food made available to hunger relief organizations such as food banks and soup kitchens. It is not disaster relief.”                                                                                                                                                                                                


We also exclude community gardens whose primary purpose is to revitalize or beautify a neighborhood rather than to transfer valuable resources to beneficiaries.                                                                                                                                                                                                


Feeding America: What is a food bank?                                                                                                                                                                                                


Feeding America: BackPack Program                                                                                                                                                                                                


A full list of participating States and Indian Tribal Organizations can be found on the C.S.F.P. Fact Sheet.                                                                                                                                                                                                


Some of the programs specified in this and the following section derive from Feeding America’s classification of grocery and meal programs in its 2014 Hunger in America report.                                                                                                                                                                                                


Older Americans Act of 1965, Part C—Nutrition Services, Subpart 1—Congregate Nutrition Services                                                                                                                                                                                                


U.S.D.A. Food and Nutrition Service: Summer Food Service Program                                                                                                                                                                                                


Feeding America: Summer Food Service Program