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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 bank donations are needed more than ever before in the UK. Despite Covid-19 restrictions easing, families across the country are likely to feel the financial impact of the crisis well beyond the pandemic, with the Government set to cut universal credit by £20 per week in September.

Food banks faced “historic levels of need” in 2020, according to the Trussell Trust, and councils had to step in too to stop child hunger in lockdown. Nearly 302,400 children signed up for free school meals after the UK first shut down on March 23 last year, with pandemic-driven redundancies, income cuts and increasing living costs making it more difficult for families to put food on the table. Nearly 20 per cent of Engand’s state school pupils now receive the free lunches.

The UK’s food poverty rate is among the highest in Europe. Despite being the sixth richest country in the world, millions are struggling to access the food they need.

Nearly six million adults and 1.7 million children were struggling to get enough food between September 2020 and February 2021, according to a report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee.

But anyone can donate to a food bank, whether through the Trussell Trust or an independent centre, 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.

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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 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.

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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.

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 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

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.

A record six million people were claiming universal credit by the beginning of 2021 after UK household finances took a significant hit during the pandemic. Brits were worse affected by the financial impact of the Covid-19 crisis than people in France and Germany, with one in three UK households (33 per cent) having had to cut back their spending compared to 22 per cent in France and 21 per cent in Germany.the Independent Food Aid Network 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.

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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. 

Charity Sustain UK said 8.4 million people in the UK are living in food poverty, with BAME, disabled and older people worst affected. 

The number of families struggling to afford food is likely higher than food bank figures would suggest, as some people report the stigma and shame around poverty being enough to stop them seeking help to eat. 

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.

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