Feeding America fights hunger with data


Feeding America is a nationwide network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs—feeding over five million hungry people per year.

After receiving a software grant from the Tableau Foundation, the organization can use Tableau to track "all the moving parts" involved in sourcing, distribution, and cost management. Decision makers at food banks are turning to dashboards to quickly identify needs and understand where to focus their efforts.

With faster access to data, food banks can focus on what they do best—relieving hunger.


Tableau: Can you tell us about your work at Feeding America?
Melinda Resser, Director of Analytics: I mean, if you tried to conjure in your mind who was food insecure, you might not get to that person because one in seven people in this country are food insecure. I mean, it’s one thing to say 49 million are food insecure—but one in seven. So look around. Somebody that you're sitting near is food insecure.

Ross Fraser, Director of Media Relations: Feeding America is a network of 200 food banks—most of the food banks in the country. Those food banks provide food to 61,000 food pantries, soup kitchens, and other agencies. So any given week of the year, more than five million people each week will come to us for a meal.

Tableau: What type of data do you analyze in Tableau?
Melinda: We source food from big brand manufacturers, from produce growers, we pick up food from retail stores, and we help distribute that.

All of this costs money and all of this is donated funds. So we’re helping the food banks analyze how much does it cost them to source a pound of food? How much does it cost them to distribute it? What is their inventory turns in their warehouses? So all of these things are data points that we collect and report out.

We didn’t think that our food banks were consuming the data the way that we would like. We found out that they were looking at the spreadsheets and saying, “So?” One of my staff found Tableau and brought it to my attention, and as soon as I saw it, I said, “This is beyond a map! This is great! We need this, we need to get this.”

Tableau: What inspired you to use Tableau?
Melinda: We didn’t think that our food banks were consuming the data the way that we would like. We found out that they were looking at the spreadsheets and saying, “So?”

One of my staff found Tableau and brought it to my attention, and as soon as I saw it, I said, “This is beyond a map! This is great! We need this, we need to get this.”

Tableau: What type of dashboards have you created?
Melinda: The first visualizations we did was a dashboard, which we called the Performance Benchmarking Dashboard. We don’t think we could’ve rendered that in anything but Tableau. The vizzes are showing them where the distribution patterns are, where the need is, so that they can focus on those areas. There are a lot of moving pieces—a lot of moving pieces. This will help foodbanks see those pieces in an easier way than a spreadsheet would do.

Ross: It helps us visualize where the food is, where we need to take the food, who’s hungry, where they’re hungry, and how we can be much more efficient and get more food to hungry people.

Melinda: 49 million people will thank you, and we thank you too.

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