Social Justice

Here's how to donate to a food bank near you this winter

Times are tough right now amid the cost of living crisis. If you're thinking about giving a little support to those less fortunate, here's what you need to know

donate to a food bank

A volunteer stacks food in a Trussell Trust food bank. Image: Trussell Trust

Food banks fear more people will need their help than ever before this winter. They need people to donate food and cash to survive.

More than 600,000 people are likely to need the support of food banks between December and February, according to forecasts from the Trussell Trust. 

An emergency food parcel will have to be handed out every eight seconds, with more than 1 million expected to be distributed this winter. These are numbers never seen before.

Need is outstripping donations and some food banks are running out of supplies, making it more important than ever that people donate. 

Anyone can donate and it is one of the most direct ways of helping local people at their most desperate time. The Trussell Trust and Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) and other charities have urgently called on the government to end the need for food banks as increasing numbers rely on their services. Until then, they need help from the public to stay afloat. 

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

How can I find a food bank near me?

Most communities have a food bank. The Trussell Trust is the UK’s biggest network of food banks, with more than 1,300 across the country. It has a map on its website where you can find one near you, making it easy to donate directly by simply delivering the items you want to give.

Meanwhile, there are more than 1,000 independent food banks supporting communities across the UK. You can find many of them using IFAN’s interactive map. 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.

Where can I donate to a food bank?

Most food banks have preferred drop-off points for ease and to protect the privacy of guests. This might be at their warehouse or at local supermarkets.

Supermarkets often have a collection box so it’s easy to donate while doing your weekly shop. 

Lidl has its Good to Give initiative, with selected items branded with a ‘Good to Give’ trustmark so you know they are good to donate to food banks.



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.

If you can’t collect and donate items, most 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.

What can you donate to a food bank?

Most food banks have clear guidance on what they put in a parcel, meaning deciding what to donate is simple. They tend to 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.

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. 

According to the Trussell Trust, a food parcel typically 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 , 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 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 usually need a referral from a support service or professional, such as Citizens Advice, your children’s school or a charity. If you’re not sure where to get a referral, your local council should be able to advise you and help you find a food bank.

Before being referred people 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. They then receive a voucher they can exchange for three days’ worth of emergency food at a local food bank. 

When they have found a food bank and 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.

Do food banks charge for food?

Food banks don’t charge for food – but lots do require visitors to be referred by a professional. This could be a local council worker, school, health professional or social worker. A voucher is then exchanged for an emergency food parcel typically containing at least three days’ worth of food.

“People are only really supposed to have three food vouchers within any six month period, because it’s meant to just get them through the crisis periods,” Beryl Bellew, at North Liverpool Foodbank, says. “But people are having to come more and more. That puts pressure on the volunteers. As a volunteer, we would never want to send someone away who needed food.”

There are food banks that don’t require people to be referred, which are typically independent food banks, community fridges and soup kitchens. You can find more information here.

The idea that lots of people go to food banks to get themselves 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.

Why you should donate to a food bank

A record 600,000 people are expected to need the help of food banks between December to February, and demand is outstripping supply.

“We’ve got no way of knowing how we’re going to survive this winter,” Cass Francis, the communications and campaigns manager at Southend Foodbank, said. “We really don’t. I shouldn’t be saying that really but it’s the truth. We’re not the only ones in this situation.

“We are literally desperate. And we’re in an unsustainable position of basically shoring up the inadequate benefit system that is letting people down. We are running to stay still.”

At North Liverpool Foodbank, they recently ran out of food. The shelves were empty. Lead volunteer Bellew added: “We need food. If people can get just one extra item a week in their shopping and put it in the donation points, that would be brilliant. Even the smallest donations are great, because all those small donations add up.”

While anti-poverty campaigners and charities including the Trussell Trust lobby for long-term solutions – such as the introduction of an “essentials guarantee” so that people can afford the basics they need to survive – there remains an immediate need for people to get food even when they can’t afford it.

Emma Revie, Chief Executive of the Trussell Trust, said: “We don’t want to spend every winter saying things at food banks are getting worse, but they are. Food banks are not the answer in the long term, but while we continue to fight for the change that could mean they can be closed for good, your local food bank urgently needs your support.

“They need donations of food for emergency parcels, and money to fund costs such as the purchasing of food to meet the shortfall in donations they are currently experiencing.”

Are food banks 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 volunteers and charity workers 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.

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.

“We all deserve the dignity of staying warm, fed and protected from poverty,” said Polly Jones, head of Scotland for food bank charity the Trussell Trust. “For too long people have been going without because social security payments are not based on a real reflection of life’s costs and are being pushed deeper into hardship as a result.

The Trussell Trust, alongside the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, is leading a campaign for an ‘essentials guarantee’. They have found that universal credit claimants are £35 short of the money they need to survive each week. That’s just for the bare essentials. And so people are forced to turn to charitable organisations to survive.

The charities want to give benefits claimants the security they need and move towards ending the need for food banks in the long term.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Energy bills are set to fall but UK families have already lost £72bn to 'staggering' prices
energy bills
Energy bills

Energy bills are set to fall but UK families have already lost £72bn to 'staggering' prices

Abuse survivor tried to take her own life after years-long battle with DWP over disability benefits
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
Department for Work and Pensions

Abuse survivor tried to take her own life after years-long battle with DWP over disability benefits

Poverty costs the UK billions each year. Politicians must commit to ending it this general election
Trussell Trust food banks
General election 2024

Poverty costs the UK billions each year. Politicians must commit to ending it this general election

DWP under investigation over treatment of ill and disabled people after deaths of benefit claimants
Department for Work and Pensions

DWP under investigation over treatment of ill and disabled people after deaths of benefit claimants

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know