In his restaurants, Masa Takayama approaches dining as a high art that engages all of the senses. Through his choice of beneficiary for the Robb Report Culinary Masters Competition, he expresses his wish to bring that kind of beauty—along with sustenance—to those struggling with hunger in America. “Everyone—children, teenagers, adults, and elders—should have the opportunity to enjoy food by vision, taste, and smell,” Takayama says. “And I applaud Feeding America for being a charitable organization that embraces this philosophy.”
A Chicago-based network of 200 food banks and 61,000 food-assistance groups across the country, Feeding America supplies food to more than 37 million Americans a year. Its network includes independent community centers, church food pantries, homeless shelters, schools, soup kitchens, and disaster-relief agencies—most every type of group involved in feeding the hungry. The organization is supported by charitable contributions from individuals and foundations, as well as by food donations from major corporations, such as the Kellogg Company, Kraft Foods Inc., and General Mills.
“We will move nearly 3.5 billion pounds of food this year,” says Ross Fraser, a spokesman for the organization. In addition to keeping food pantries stocked, Feeding America supports a number of hunger-relief efforts, including many focused on children. This year, the BackPack Program will supply 230,000 school-age children with food-filled backpacks on Friday afternoons, ensuring that the youngsters and their families have some form of nourishment over the weekends. The Kids Cafe program serves a hot meal at the end of each school day to supplement school lunch and breakfast programs.
Feeding America expects to raise $83.5 million this year, but “a couple of years ago, we raised $100 million,” Fraser says. “It was less than that last year, and it will be less again this year.”
Dollar donations are down at a time when the need for food is urgent: One in seven Americans lives at or below the poverty level and one in eight uses a food bank, Fraser notes. “Many of our groups will tell you there’s a record need for food,” he says. “We’ve been in emergency mode for a few years.” Feeding America receives no government funding (although many of the charities in its network do). Some of the money it distributes is used to buy food, but most of it pays for trucks, vans, warehouses, and after-school programs such as BackPack.
“The mission of Feeding America matches my belief that no individual should go hungry,” Takayama says. “Being an owner/chef of restaurants and knowing the beauty of the culinary arts, it pains me to think that there are people in our country that do not get to have the experience of a healthy, well-balanced meal.”