Arizona Food Bank Network and their fight against food insecurity

By Marcus Miller, Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership Certificate student 

This blog is part of a series from the December Arizona Immersive program of the Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership Graduate Certificate Program. Students virtually toured the state, meeting with farmers, ranchers, entrepreneurs, government staff and non-profit leaders. 

The history of food banks in Arizona runs deep. The concept of food banks began in the early 1920s when the local Presbyterian church’s Desert Mission realized they needed to assist ill migrants moving to the Phoenix, AZ area. The Desert Mission provided medical supplies and food to the migrants to relieve the stressors of their illnesses and moving to a new environment.

Since the 1920s, food banks in Arizona have expanded into a network called the Arizona Food Bank Network (AZFBN). The AZFBN consists of 5 regional partner food banks and over 1,000 food pantries that provide food to over 450,000 food-insecure people a month across Arizona. During the 3-day ASU sponsored virtual Food and Farm Immersive, the ASU Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership Cohort had the opportunity to talk to Angie Rodgers, President and CEO of AZFBN. 

During our conversation with Angie Rogers, she walked us through a wide range of topics. The one topic that overpowered them all was about eliminating food insecurity. This could be quite ironic coming from the CEO of a foodbank, but as explained by Angie, food banks are just a band-aid to the larger problem of food insecurity. “We need to shift focus from just feeding the line, to fixing the issues causing food-insecure people to rely on food banks in the first place”, said Angie. For example, many food bank patrons frequent the bank to make ends meet because they cannot afford a full month’s food bill. To fix this issue, we need to create laws and policy that improves education, equity, and employment opportunities in food-insecure areas. This will allow individuals to become less reliant on food banks and build a more sustainable lifestyle. 

Food insecurity in America is an ever-present concern and will only be stopped when the underlying issues such as inequality, education, and employment are solved at a national level. The current pandemic has further proven the system needs to be revamped as we have seen millions of Americans rush to food banks to sustain themselves during the pandemic. In Arizona alone, the AZFBN is now serving 1 in 7 Arizonans or 1.9 million people a month. Across America, this has caused a massive overload at food banks, a need for more government assistance, and a deeper reliance on food banks for food insecure individuals. Through policy and advocacy, we can make the necessary changes required.

Thank you, Angie Rogers, for speaking to the ASU food policy cohort during our immersive. Continue to advocate against food insecurity. With your help, we hope to be the change we want to see in this world.