Pallet of cabbage in warehouse

What is a Food Bank?

A food bank sources and distributes fresh food, free groceries and healthy, nutritious meals through a network of local food shelves.

What's the Difference Between a Food Bank and a Food Shelf?

Food Bank

Second Harvest Heartland is a food bank that receives extremely large quantities of donated food, and purchases food directly. We sort and repack this food into smaller-sized portions, store it in our warehouse, refrigerator and freezer space, then distribute it as needed to thousands of hunger relief partner programs in the region.

Food Shelf

A food shelf or food pantry is one of those hunger relief partners that receives food from food banks (like Second Harvest Heartland) to distribute directly to their neighbors in need. A food shelf connects these hungry families in local community with the healthy, nutritious food they need to thrive.


How Second Harvest Heartland works

A food bank acts as a wholesaler, sourcing large amounts of food and making it available to smaller, local food shelves and food pantries, so they can provide free groceries and healthy meals to our neighbors experiencing hunger and food insecurity.

Icons depicting carrots, a forklift, a truck, and an outline of the United States
  • Ending hunger together begins with where and how we source the food we distribute, much of it rescued from going to waste while some is purchased from local farmers and growers. 

  • At our Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, facility, a dedicated team of operations specialists, order selectors and drivers ensure all food is handled safely and delivered accurately.

  • The food we provide stocks the shelves and fridges of 423 local food shelves so they can help hungry families, children and seniors. In 2022, we distributed nearly 123 million pounds of food. 

  • We’re part of the Feeding America network of more than 200 food banks around the country. Our partnership helps amplify our impact and extend our reach.

Warehouse pallet driver


Moving Food Safely

Accuracy, safety and speed are vitally important for food banks. Every year, we move millions of pounds of food from pallets and freezers in our warehouse to the fridges and plates of our hungry neighbors.
Volunteer packing bread


Meet Our

Volunteers are central to achieving our mission. Every day, individuals like Jackie and Posa show up to sort and pack food in our warehouse.

Frequently Asked Questions

Hunger relief refers to organizations coming together to make no-cost food available to people who might need help keeping their fridges full. We believe that no one should go hungry or struggle with food insecurity, especially when there is more than enough food for all. As a food bank, we work with national, regional, and local organizations to get food to the individuals and families who need it.

Food banks like Second Harvest Heartland play a critical role in the emergency food chain and hunger relief efforts. We operate as “food wholesalers” who source large quantities of healthy, nutritious food from retailers, manufacturers, distributors, farmers, producers and others, then repackage it into smaller quantities that community food shelves and our hungry neighbors can use. For example, our volunteers help turn a 2,000-pound bag of cereal into hundreds of family-sized boxes. By sourcing and distributing food efficiently, we amplify our reach and can help more people.

Food banks like Second Harvest Heartland support our hungry neighbors in numerous ways, wherever we believe food can be the solution to ending hunger. That includes efficiently and cost-effectively rescuing, purchasing and distributing large quantities of food to local food shelves; creating innovative programs that reduce food insecurity and help end hunger for Minnesota and Wisconsin residents; providing volunteer opportunities; and advocating for policies and programs that make lasting change.

As a member of the Feeding America network of food banks, and one of the largest and most efficient hunger-relief organizations in the nation, we have the size and scale to distribute food across much of Minnesota and Wisconsin. We currently support a 59-county service area and work with 1,115 partner programs.

Feeding America is a nationwide network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs that provides food and services to people each year. Feeding America works to help bring healthy, nutritious food to regional food banks (including Second Harvest Heartland) where they can direct it to community partners and hungry neighbors.