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Social Justice

How to volunteer at a food bank

Thinking about volunteering at a food bank but don’t know where to start? We’ve got you covered

Volunteering at a food bank is an incredible way to make a difference in your local community. You will be working on the frontline of the cost of living crisis and be a lifeline to people who need your help. 

Food banks across the country are often looking for volunteers who can lend a few hours every week. They might need drivers to transport the food, people to organise packages in the warehouse or volunteers to welcome guests. 

It is a challenging role. Food bank manager Charlotte White told the Big Issue there’s still so much shame involved. Some guests arrive in tears or practically starving, having reached breaking point before reaching out for help. 

But it is also rewarding too. Doreen, a volunteer at Earlsfield Foodbank, said: “We get such joy in helping people in this food bank. We have such comradeship and we really have love for each other and the people that come in.”

The truth is, of course, we shouldn’t need food banks. No one should. But until employers pay enough for their staff to survive or the government brings benefits in line with inflation, there are things we can do to support each other.

Here’s everything you need to know about volunteering at a food bank – including where to find opportunities near you, how old you have to be and other ways to help in the cost of living crisis. 

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How do I volunteer at a food bank?

An easy way of finding volunteering opportunities is by using the Trussell Trust’s online tool. The charity supports a network of more than 1,300 food banks across the country, run by more than 28,000 volunteers. 

If you want to volunteer with the Trussell Trust, all you need to do is type in your postcode here. If there aren’t any results in your immediate area, you could consider extending the search area if you are able to support a little bit further away.

There are also more than 1,000 independent food banks in the UK. You can find many of them on the Independent Food Aid Network’s map here. The best way to find out if your local food bank is looking for volunteers is to check out their website or social media pages.  

Food banks often use social media to call for volunteers to sign up. Check out the Facebook pages, Instagram and Twitter accounts to see if your local centre has any information about becoming a volunteer. For example, Wimbledon Food Bank recently shared its volunteer application form on its Twitter account. 

If you’re still struggling to find out how to become a volunteer, it’s worth getting in touch directly either by email or over the phone to see how you can help. If staff aren’t looking for any more volunteers at this time, they might be able to signpost you to other charities that do need your help. 

How old do I have to be to volunteer at a food bank?

It really depends on the place – each is managed in a different way and will have its own rules. At Foodshare in Maidenhead, for example, you have to be at least 17 to volunteer. Others will only accept volunteers who are over 18. 

Nourish Community Foodbank in Tunbridge Wells has a youth volunteer programme for secondary school students from Year 7 to 13, and they support volunteers completing the Duke of Edinburgh programme. 

If you’re not sure if you are – or your child is – too young to volunteer, it’s worth getting in touch. There might be other ways you can help, like organising collections at your school or community centre. 

How else can I help my local food bank?

If you don’t have the time to volunteer, donating is a great way to make a difference. Most food banks have lists on their website or social media pages with exactly what items they need – it’s important to keep to this list. They might be overwhelmed by donations of pasta, for example, but not have any tinned vegetables to give to guests.

Online tools like Bankuet and Foodbank App can be used to find your local food bank as well as discovering what resources they most urgently need.

Most supermarket chains have a food bank collection box in their bigger stores making it easy to donate while doing your weekly shop. Lidl launched its Good to Give initiative this year. A total of 30 long-life items on the supermarket shelves have been carefully selected and have the Good to Give trustmark on their packaging. 

All you have to do is pop the item in your trolley and drop it at the food donation points located past the checkouts in Lidl stores. The items will then be collected regularly by local food banks and community projects.

See what it’s really like inside a food bank with our series Diary of a food bank manager

If you would rather give money, food banks usually accept cash donations too. Services like the Trussell Trust and IFAN accept donations online, either as a one-off or on a recurring basis.

You could also run fundraisers or organise a collection at your school, religious setting or community group. Your local food bank may run their own charity events like cycle rides or sponsored events – or you could start your own. 

The Trussell Trust has a fundraising pack so you can help raise money for the charity, and it’s full of ideas to get you started. They also have established events like Tea for Trussell or Step Up September. You can have fun while raising money for a fantastic cause!

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Big Issue Group is creating new solutions through enterprise to unlock opportunities for the 14.5 million people living in poverty to earn, learn and thrive. Big Issue Group brings together our media and investment initiatives as well as a diverse and pioneering range of new solutions, all of which aim to dismantle poverty by creating opportunity. Learn how you can change lives today.

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