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Social Justice

How you can find and donate to a food bank near you

Giving a little support to those less fortunate has never been easier. Here’s what you need to know to donate to a food bank.

Food banks are facing a crisis this Christmas. 

Between the universal credit cut, soaring fuel bills and a cost of living crisis, staff and volunteers expect a surge in demand which far exceeds anything seen during the pandemic so far.

The UK’s supply chain chaos affects food aid centres too, leaving them without the supplies they need to help in-need communities.

It means around 1.2 million people could be forced to skip meals during what looks likely to be a bleak winter, the Trussell Trust said.

The UK’s food poverty rate is already among the highest in Europe. Despite being the sixth richest country in the world, millions are struggling to access the food they need. But anyone can donate to a food bank and it is one of the most direct ways of helping local people at their most desperate time.

Never donated to a food bank before? Don’t know where to find the local collection centre near you? Not sure why they exist in the first place? Here’s everything you need to know. 

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Where can I donate to a food bank?

It’s easy to donate to a food bank and most communities will have a food bank in one form or another.

The Trussell Trust is the UK’s biggest network of food banks. The organisation supports more than 1,400 across the country and has a map on its website where you can find the one that’s nearest to you, making it easy to donate directly by simply delivering the items you want to give.

Meanwhile, the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) is a group of nearly 930 grassroots food banks supporting communities across the UK. You can find your local IFAN venue using this interactive map or by getting in touch with ifanconnect@gmail.com for more information on how to donate.

And online tools like Bankuet and Foodbank App can also 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.

If you can’t collect and donate items, most food banks happily accept cash contributions. Services like the Trussell Trust, IFAN and other local food banks can be donated to online, either as a one-off or on a recurring basis.

Donations don’t have to be huge. It can just mean buying a few extra items in your weekly shop or donating cash to help food banks buy the items they know locals really need.

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What can you donate to a food bank?

The main thing to bear in mind is that whatever you give may be stored for some time before it goes to those who need it. Avoid things like fresh fruit and veg, fish, meat and dairy products as it might go bad and the food bank is unlikely to accept it.

The full list from The Trussell Trust of food you can donate to a food bank includes: cereal, soup, pasta, rice, tinned tomatoes, pasta sauce, lentils, beans and pulses, tinned meat, tinned vegetables, tea or coffee, tinned fruit, biscuits, UHT milk, and fruit juice. Most food banks have clear guidance on what they put in a parcel, meaning deciding what to donate is simple.

Do food banks need toiletries?

When it comes to non-food items you can donate to a food bank, this can include deodorant, toilet paper, shower gel, shaving gel, shampoo, soap, toothbrushes, tooth paste, hand wipes, sanitary towels and tampons.

Many also accept household items such as laundry powder or liquids and washing up liquid, as well as baby supplies like nappies, baby wipes and baby food.

It is worth remembering that luxury items many of us take for granted are out of the question for people struggling to put food on the table. Stick to the lists put together by food banks to ensure you are helping combat hunger, but some services have bonus tables where treats are given out – especially in the run-up to Christmas – if you decide to donate something special alongside the essentials.

Do food banks charge for food?

Food banks are grassroots services designed to help people in the community who may be struggling to pay for food. Schools, churches and community centres often set up collections for food banks or donation schemes and so do big supermarkets and charities, collecting essential items for people who can’t afford them.

People who need support are referred to food banks by doctors, social workers or Citizens Advice and receive a voucher they can exchange for three days’ worth of emergency food at a local food bank. Before being referred they will be asked about their needs, their income and how many people they are supporting – so advisers know if they should be referred for enough food to feed a family.

Not all food banks require a voucher but most do only help people who have been referred. The idea that lots of people go to food banks for free groceries is a myth – many users report shame and stigma around needing food aid and most people only seek a referral after having no income for at least a month, according to Turn2us.

A voucher is exchanged for an emergency food parcel typically containing at least three days’ worth of food. If someone needs to use a food bank, they will normally need to seek another referral.

When they go to collect their food they will often be offered a cup of tea and a chat to see if there is any other help they may need. Food banks exist to meet the immediate need for food but many volunteers try to connect people in need with other support services.

Why you should donate to a food bank

The number of people forced to rely on food banks has soared by 128 per cent between 2016 and 2021, according to Trussell Trust figures.

The food aid charity gave out 2.5 million emergency food parcels last year – a 1.5 million increase since 2016 – with nearly a million of those going to children, amounting to two every minute.

Emergency food demand jumped 33 per cent between 2019 and 2020 after pandemic redundancies, income cuts and increased living costs pushed thousands into poverty, the figures showed. 

Parcels are usually designed to last three days, but one in 10 of those handed out last year were made to feed someone for seven days, increasing the volume of food given away by 53 per cent between 2019 and 2020.

Around 5.5 million people are relying on universal credit to get by, which is to be cut by £1,040 per year in October. It’s likely to push half a million people into poverty, analysts estimated, including 200,000 children. 

It is uncertainty which will lead to a surge in demand for food banks, experts said.

While anti-poverty campaigners lobby for long-term solutions – like making the universal credit increase permanent, lifting the benefit cap and ending the two-child limit – there remains an immediate need for people to get food even when they can’t afford it.

Is food the answer?

Food banks hand out emergency parcels to meet an immediate need: the thousands of people across the country who would not have anything to eat that day otherwise.

But many food banks agree: food poverty can’t be separated from poverty, and food handouts are not the answer to the UK’s poverty problem. They want the government to strengthen the benefits system and improve low pay across the country to make sure people can afford food in the first place.

Image: Independent Food Aid Network

Sabine Goodwin, coordinator for IFAN, told The Big Issue: “The buck cannot stop at the doors of food banks.”

Some could be forced into the “unthinkable position” of not even being able to offer reduced parcels to people unable to afford the bare essentials, she added.

“This is never going to be resolved by food,” Goodwin said. 

Food banks are also receiving fewer donations from the public compared to recent months, Goodwin added, and are operating with fewer and fewer volunteers. Those remaining are “exhausted”.

“People are going back to work. That moment of Blitz spirit has passed,” she said. “Some food banks might be alright now but the system is so fragile, when the expected surge in demand comes they won’t be prepared.

“This impossible scenario cannot be imposed on charitable food aid providers when the solution is so clear,” she added

She said ministers must reinstate the £20 per week to universal credit and working tax credits. The cut, amounting to a £1,040 annual loss for claimants, could push 500,000 people into poverty, anti-poverty charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said.

IFAN also wants ministers to increase legacy benefits – claimed mostly by disabled people and which did not receive the same £20 increase during the pandemic – as well as ensure the “social security system is fit for purpose” and “fast-track decent wages and job security for all”.

IFAN is working with dozens of local authorities to implement a “cash-first” approach to ending demand for food aid, signposting people struggling to afford food to sources of financial support.

This means distributing leaflets to food bank users as well as campaigning for jobs to pay the real living wage, and for food poverty to be tackled through increased incomes on a national scale.

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