Food banks: How to find one, who can use them, what food can you get and how can you help out

Food is getting more expensive and wages aren’t rising fast enough to keep up.

Perhaps then it is unsurprising that demand for help from food banks is on the rise too.

According to a new study from the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN) , there are now 2,000 food banks across the UK giving out food parcels on a weekly basis to people in need.

So who qualifies for help from a food bank? And how can you help?

Finding your local food bank

You can check if you area is served by a Trussell Trust food bank by making use of this map on its website .

Alternatively, have a look at the Independent Food Aid Network website , which has mapped the locations of hundreds of independent food banks. It plans to add all food aid providers, which aren’t categorised as food banks, soon.

Who can get food from a food bank?

Food banks are there to help people facing a food emergency.
Food banks are there to help people facing a food emergency.

If you need to make use of a food bank which is part of the Trussell Trust , a charity which runs hundreds of food banks across the UK, you will first need to be issued with a food bank voucher.

These are issued by different sources, such as Citizens Advice , doctors, health workers and social workers, while some food banks work with local housing associations and drug and alcohol support agencies too.

The decision is based on whether you are in a crisis situation and need emergency food.

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These ‘referral agencies’ will note down some details about you to help identify why you are in such a difficult situation and offer practical guidance.

However, there are hundreds of independent food banks which aren’t operated by the Trussell Trust – they may be run by your local church or community centre for example.

They will have different requirements for exactly who qualifies for help.

For example, the Stevenage Community Food Bank outlines the sorts of criteria people need to meet in order to qualify for help, which includes the long term sick who are awaiting statutory sick pay or a local authority resident who has fallen into rent arrears which threatens their tenancy due to an unforeseen crisis.

What’s in a food parcel?

The contents of food parcels will vary, but they are generally full of tinned, non-perishable goods
The contents of food parcels will vary, but they are generally full of tinned, non-perishable goods

Again, the food you receive – and just how much of it you can get – can vary depending on who runs the food bank.

According to the Trussell Trust, a food parcel from one of its food banks provides a minimum of three day’s worth of “nutritionally balanced, non-perishable” tinned and dried foods.

It says that a typical food parcel includes:

  • Cereal
  • Soup
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Pasta sauce
  • Beans
  • Tinned meat
  • Tinned vegetables
  • Tea/coffee
  • Tinned fruit
  • Biscuits

A volunteer will discuss any dietary requirements you might have while running through what’s in the food parcel, while some food banks have the facilities to provide fresh food too.

They may provide non-food items, like toiletries and hygiene products as well.

Things vary with independent food banks though. With the Stevenage Community Food Bank you can get food for a three-week period for example, while the Hereford Food Bank provides food for a week.

With the Bow Food Bank in East London, there are no pre-packaged parcels, and no need to rely on a referral. You can simply choose the food or goods that you feel you most need.

Meanwhile, the Newmarket Open Door Food Bank offers frozen foods and even pet food, as well as seasonal items like Easter Eggs and Christmas Puddings, depending on donations.

Helping a food bank

From making a cash donation to helping put the food parcels together, there are many different ways to assist a food bank.
From making a cash donation to helping put the food parcels together, there are many different ways to assist a food bank.

There are a host of different ways that you can help out with a food bank in your area.

The obvious way is to make a donation. This can be old fashioned cash or a food donation, though if you go for the latter bear in mind that there are restrictions on what a food bank can accept – the Trussell Trust recommends speaking to your local food bank first to find out what supplies they are particularly short of.

Your local supermarket may have a collection point too, so you can drop off some beans or cereal after doing your weekly big shop.

The Trussell Trust has set up a number of community shops which sell donated goods, with those funds then going towards the food banks. So if you don’t want to donate food, you can instead donate old clothes, books, DVDs or toys for them to sell.

Finally, you can volunteer your services. This could mean helping out at the warehouse, weighing out and sorting donated food, meeting clients and helping to point them towards where they can get further help, or even something more specific to your skills.

The Broxbourne Food Bank is looking for a volunteer website editor for example, while the Stevenage Community Food Bank is trying to find volunteers who can help with its marketing and social media efforts.

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