Big Issue Vendor

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

The use of food banks is on the rise, with thousands expected to need extra help this winter. Here's what you need to know to donate to a food bank
Some of the food people donate to a food bank. Image credit: petelovespurple/Flickr

Food bank donations are needed more than ever before in the UK. There is no escaping the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and people are increasingly relying on charity to help them as jobs dry up.

After more than a million children signed up for free school meals this year for the first time, it is clear Covid-19 has put a record number of families across the UK at risk of going hungry. 

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More than a million of the UK’s most disadvantaged people frequently struggle to afford food, according to the Centre for Social Justice, and are in “severe financial trouble”. Most of these people also do not feel politicians care about helping them, the research showed.

But anyone can donate, whether through the Trussell Trust or an independent 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? Look no further.

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 1,200 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 that they most urgently need.

There are other options as well of course. The big supermarket chains often have a food bank collection centre in their bigger stores making it easy to donate to a food bank while doing your weekly shop.

You can also play a big part in helping people less fortunate than yourself get the items they need. Hosting a collection at your school, church or business can bring people together, raise awareness and do a good deed all at the same time.

If you cannot 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. Read on to find out what is best to donate to a food bank and how they help.

What can you donate to a food bank?

It may have “food” in the name but it’s not just things to eat and drink you can donate to a food bank. They also give out packs of other essential items like toiletries, tampons, nappies and baby food. 

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.

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.

How do food banks work?

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 use exchange for three days’ worth of emergency food at a local food bankfood bank centre. 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 meed 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

Food bank use has more than doubled in the last six years, according to The Trussell Trust, with more than 1.9 million people in the UK applying for emergency food aid through the organisation’s network of food banks in the year up to March 31 2020. That’s compared to 913,000 in the year before the end of March 2013.

Announcing new figures in November, Trussell Trust chief executive Emma Revie warned that food banks and the poverty that drives the need for them are “teetering on the brink” of being normalised.

The UK’s biggest food aid network reported a 47 per cent rise in demand for food banks between April and September 2020 and gave out 1.2 million emergency food parcels in the same time period. 

While the extension of the furlough scheme is likely to prevent thousands of redundancies, the Government u-turn came too late for many and they are expecting to see a huge 61 per cent increase in need for food banks in the final three months of this year.

“Our research finds that Covid-19 has led to tens of thousands of new people needing to use a food bank for the first time,” Revie said. “ This is not right. If we don’t take action now, there will be further catastrophic rises in poverty in the future.”

The number of people claiming Universal Credit or Jobseeker’s Allowance increased from 1.2 million in March to more than 5 million in the summer, the Office for National Statistics said. Now anti-poverty campaigners fear a further rise in poverty and food bank demand this winter. 

The Trussell Trust’s 1,200 individual food bank centres only tell part of the story with Big Issue Changemaker Sabine Goodwin mapping at least 916 other independent food banks in the UK.

The Independent Food Aid Network has reported a 177 per cent rise in the number of three-day emergency food parcels handed out between May 2019 and May 2020 – before seeing demand double over the summer

And it is families with children that are hardest hit with the rate of child poverty in the UK thought to have soared during the pandemic. 

This December the Trussell Trust revealed almost half of people who used their food banks during the summer owed money to the DWP – meaning it is now more common for people in poverty to owe money to the Government than to family or friends.

This was because of loans or benefit overpayments. Three quarters of the households they surveyed who were on Universal Credit and in need of emergency food were repaying an advance payment.

This is a loan usually given to cover the five-week wait for a first instalment of the benefit.

Food aid experts have also identified a group they call the “new hungry” – a growing number of families who, prior to the pandemic, were financially comfortable but are now forced to rely on benefits and food banks. 

Feeding Britain reported an increase in households with mortgages and cars being referred for emergency food parcels, including business owners and self-employed people pushed into financial hardship by the Covid-19 crisis. 

“We now see families at food banks who before the pandemic were able to pay their bills and still be comfortable enough to put food on the table. For the first time in many years that is no longer the case,” Andrew Forsey, the charity’s national director, said.

In Leicester, the Beaumont Leys food bank went from giving food to 50 families per week to 500 families. Bonny Downs community association in East Ham, which helped 4,000 people with food between April and June, reported queues forming outside up to an hour before they opened.

While anti-poverty campaigners lobby for long-term solutions – like making the £20 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 cannot afford it.

The Big Issue is committed to helping people stay in their jobs and in their homes through the Ride Out Recession Alliance. If you have been affected by the economic impact of the pandemic or have ideas about what might help, please get in touch through rora@bigissue.com. You can also sign up to get the latest news, updates and advice around the campaign here.

Image credit: petelovespurple/Flickr