The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) is a federal program that provides food commodities for those in need. It distributes excess farm production such as milk, cheese, peanut butter, grains and canned vegetables. The federal government purchases, stores, and ships these commodities to states to reduce surpluses and stabilize markets. TEFAP also provides financial assistance to states and nonprofits that distribute the goods to those in need. As food surpluses began to lessen in the early 1990s, the federal government began to dramatically reduce the size of TEFAP, placing a much greater burden on the states.
In anticipation of the reduced role of TEFAP, the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) created a nonprofit organization called California Emergency Foodlink. The CDSS reasoned that if government funding ended, Foodlink would be there to ensure that California's 1.2 million TEFAP-eligible households would continue to receive assistance.
Food delivery organizations number in the thousands in the US. Foodlink's innovation lies in its acquisition of the former Sacramento Army Depot. Using this space, Foodlink manages the logistics and transportation of government and privately donated food commodities to every county in the state, instead of seeking additional government funding or charging fees to recipients. The program hires employees out of welfare lines for truck driving and warehouse operations. It pays them during the training phase and gives them marketable skills. Foodlink is not only able to service the entire state of California, but it funds itself and freely shares its donations and revenues with local food banks.
Although Foodlink began as a food delivery program, it cites its accomplishments in the areas of job training positions and local business partnerships as well. From its first year in 1992 to 1995, the program had increased emergency food supply from three million to fifty million pounds. This is the equivalent of an increase from $800,000 to $12.5 million. In that same period, it acquired eight business partnerships, worth a total of $855,000. Foodlink also has seventy-three paid employees. In three years, Foodlink reached its halfway mark on the way to achieving the capability to fully supply the state.