Reaching people who need help with National Food Sharing System

C. Laughren    June 24, 2015

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Organization: Food Banks Canada

Industry: Not-for-profit (Canada)

Name of contact: Katharine Schmidt, Executive Director

Web references: Food Banks Canada, Capacity Canada, Facebook, Twitter, Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, “Introduction to Supply Chain Management” (Dr. Harvi Millar)

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Each year an estimated 1.1 million children face food insecurity in communities across Canada.

It can happen to anyone at any time – a life circumstance interrupts your plans and you need help. A lost job. A broken relationship. A poor life choice. A bad investment. No one should have to choose between paying an electricity bill and buying groceries for their family. This year, more than 900,000 Canadians will find themselves needing access to emergency food assistance through their local food bank. The need is very real.

Food Banks Canada is the only national charitable organization representing the food bank community across Canada. It is their mission to reduce hunger in Canada by enabling an effective food bank network which addresses both the short-term need for food and the long-term solutions for hunger.

If we think of the very definition of a supply chain–“planning and coordinating the materials flow from source to user as an integrated system…(Dr. Martin Christopher, 1999)”-then this is exactly what Food Banks Canada is doing.

A system to get help where it’s needed

Food Banks Canada developed and operates the National Food Sharing System, a unique program that acquires major food and consumer product donations and distributes them fairly to local food banks across Canada.

Here’s how it works:

  • Companies who have a donation of food/consumer product contact Food Banks Canada with details about the item(s). This could include: non-perishable food close to best before dates; misprinted food packages or imperfect items; overstock; discontinued product; etc.
  • Food Banks Canada makes transportation arrangements, through donated services, to have the product picked up/delivered to their national distribution centre.
  • Donations are then fairly distributed, through donated warehousing services, to 10 provincial centres, based on calculated use by their local food banks.
  • Local food banks receive their fair share for inclusion in food hampers and emergency food programs.

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The system has proven to be effective: in 2014, for example, Food Banks Canada raised more than 9.5 million kilograms of food and consumer products for distribution to 450 local food banks and 2,600 agencies.

 “The National Food Sharing System is a highly efficient system: for every $1 invested, we (Food Bank Canada) are able to acquire and share $8 worth of food,” confirmed Katharine Schmidt, Executive Director.

To the many participating corporate supporters, the National Food Sharing System is also a solution provider in addressing their business objectives. Their donations support corporate social responsibility objectives by helping hungry Canadians, as well as achieve environmental goals by reducing landfill waste, or maximizing a cost-saving opportunity.

Kraft quoteHow do companies find out about these opportunities with Food Banks Canada?

A social media strategy to ask for help

For the National Food Sharing System to work, corporate and other large-scale donations of food, funds and transportation services must be made available. This is where Food Banks Canada’s extensive use of social media plays a critical role. Their social channels are continually educating, engaging, informing, and recognizing through creative campaigns, promotions, storytelling, and recognition. Food Banks Canada is everywhere from mainstream reality TV to Facebook, from presentations on Parliament Hill to Twitter and Instagram. They provide prime time public service announcements for the mass audience, as well host guest bloggers on their website. Yes, Food Banks Canada also has its own YouTube channel.

Here are a few examples of creative and impactful social efforts Food Banks Canada uses to get the attention of potential suppliers and partners, and confirm those relationships already in place.

  • Corporate met not-for-profit on the popular TV show “Undercover Boss Canada” (season four) when Katherine Schmidt went disguised herself as a community volunteer at several community food banks. The program was met with rave reviews for its honest and insightful look at what it takes to feed people far away from any boardroom.

  • #EveryPlateFull ( was their national social campaign, implemented through local food banks, to raise enough food and funds for the summer months. Engagement was targeted at everyone – from broad company interest to their employee volunteers, from families to individuals and sports teams. Their result was 492,180 meals in one week.


  • A giving campaign is available on mobile devices across Canada:Just text HUNGER to 30333, and your $5 donation will be added to your next mobile phone bill.”
  • In an approach similar to Capacity Canada, Food Banks Canada offers training sessions to the local food ba network about how to integrate social media and network building . This is particularly helpful in ensuring a corporate supplier or partner has a consistent experience at the national and local community levels.

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  • Perhaps the most popular of all – Food Banks Canada has established a Corporate Donor Awards program. Social media channels are used to share the award winners broadly, and the information is cascaded through the food bank network. It’s the ultimate ‘feel good’ moment for companies – being recognized for doing good in feeding hungry Canadians.

In closing, it might seem like Food Banks Canada is being too social in creating awareness and asking for help to support their supply chain. The truth is there is never too much social for a charity. They need to be creative and persistent in getting and maintaining the attention of the corporate sector. And, it looks like the social approach is working. The National Food Sharing System is getting nutritious food to the people who need it, every day.

This leader from Tim Horton’s says it best:


Lessons for others

Social media is a powerful mechanism to build and strengthen relationships between suppliers and partners in a supply chain. The investment of time and ‘know how’ in leveraging social channels can ultimately serve to ‘INSPIRE’ ongoing and future collaboration:

Inform – Take every opportunity to share the value (time, dollars, amount of goods) or impact of your collaborative supply chain efforts.

Negotiate – Use your social platform to seek broader, deeper involvement in showcasing the work already underway.

Share in rewards – Ensure there is something for all your suppliers and partners.

Participate – Be active on social media in acknowledging and responding to comments/concerns.

Integrate – Use more than one social media channel to get engage participants in the supply chain process.

Recognize – Ensure the contributions and efforts of each supplier/partner are acknowledged often on social media and shared across your network.

Engage – Keep the social conversation going… who knows what opportunity could be next!


Submitted by: C. Laughren, University of Waterloo

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