May 10, 2016

The Paradox of Corporate Food Donations


For years, we’ve been working with food banks across the country to implement nutrition policies that promote the distribution of more nutritious food and discourage the distribution of junk food and soda. Despite the food banks’ impressive efforts, their progress in this area raises a new and unexpected dilemma: what to do about unhealthy and unwanted donations from corporate donors. 


I recently received a call from a food bank colleague asking if I had any ideas about how they could dispose of the 1.5 million pounds of donated soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) they receive annually. Their newly approved nutrition policy will soon go into effect, and while they will no longer distribute sugary drinks, they will - at least for now - continue to accept them. 

This predicament – accepting unhealthy, unwanted donations like SSBs– is a complex, multifaceted issue. Many food banks fear losing corporate donors if they turn down unhealthy items since the same donors often provide healthy food - as well as funding. And while some food banks are educating their corporate donors and saying ‘no’ to such donations, there are many more who are not yet ready to make that leap. So, these food banks must use their limited funds to handle, store and dispose of SSBs rather than risk damaging these important relationships. 

To add to this dilemma, corporate donors receive federal tax deductions for turning over surplus inventory to food banks. Unfortunately, there are no nutrition standards for these donations, so a company receives the same tax deduction whether donating pallets of soda or salmon.

As more food banks are prioritizing and promoting health and nutrition, it’s critical that the public and private sectors work together. MAZON is committed to changing the system to ensure corporations are not rewarded for unhealthy donations at the expense of food banks and the low-income families they serve.

republished from MAZON's Spring 2016 Newsletter