The Allocation of Food to Food Banks
Canice Prendergast∗ Preliminary Draft August 13, 2015
Abstract Food banks throughout the U.S. provide nutrition to the needy. Yet the food that is distributed through food banks often originates with donors - large manufacturers or distributors - far from those needy clients. How that food is distributed to food banks across the country is the subject of this essay. An informal description is given of an innovation introduced in 2005 by Feeding America (at the time the organization was called America’s Second Harvest) that would better allow food bank preferences to be reflected in their allocations. Specifically, Feeding America transitioned from the centralized allocation process, where they would make decisions based on their perception of food bank need, to one where local affiliates would bid for food items. To do so, Feeding America constructed a specialized constructed currency called “shares” that are used to bid on loads of donated food. The process by which this change came about, its necessary idiosyncrasies, and its outcomes are described.
Scott Kominers pointed me to an earlier news article on the paper
What happens when America's Soviet-style food banks embrace free-market economics?
"Initially, there was plenty of resistance. As one food bank director told Canice Prendergast, an economist advising Feeding America, "I am a socialist. That's why I run a food bank. I don't believe in markets. I'm not saying I won't listen, but I am against this." But the Chicago economists managed to design a market that worked even for participants who did not believe in it."