Food poverty and what you can do

Want to give something back but don’t know how? Find out how food banks work and what you can do to help.

Food bank

What is a food bank?

Food banks provide a minimum of three days emergency food to families and households in crisis.

The number of people relying on food banks has tripled over the last year, according to new figures. The UK is the world's sixth largest economy, yet, according to Oxfam, one in five UK citizens lives below the poverty line. Between 2012 and 2013 food banks fed 346,992 people nationwide and of those helped, 126,889 were children. 

Most food banks work on a referral process, so care professionals such as doctors, health visitors and social workers will refer people in need to a food bank with a voucher than can be exchanged for food. However, there are plenty of independent food banks run by local communites or churches who simply work on the premise of people coming in and asking for help. Once at the food bank they will typically receive a care package made up of three days of nutritionally balanced, non-perishable food. Food banks also often put clients in touch with other organisations who are better equipped to resolve the underlying problems of poverty.

If you want to do something to help there are plenty of ways to lend a hand to people in crisis. Food banks are often staffed by volunteers and run solely on donations.

How you can help...

Cheesy broccoli pasta

The UK's largest food bank network The Trussell Trust is currently looking for food donations from a standard shopping list, as well as volunteers to help run food banks. You can find your nearest food bank by clicking here and entering your postcode. If you wish to donate food it is always worth giving your local food bank a call in advance to find out if there is anything they are in particularly desperate need of.

Other organisations such as FoodCycle work by providing hot meals in a warm environment to vulnerable groups at risk of food poverty and social isolation. FoodCycle volunteers do so using surplus food and spare kitchen spaces. Since May 2009 the charity has reclaimed over 74,000kg of surplus food from food retailers, which would otherwise have been dumped, and turned it into nourishing food for people in need. FoodCycle accepts food donations and is also looking for volunteers who can do all sorts of things, from picking up the surplus food to chopping, cooking and stirring. You can find a list of the local projects and find out how to get involved here.

What if there's not a food bank in my area?

Don't have a local food bank and tempted to start your own? It can be done. The Oxford Food Bank started after its founders grew frustrated by fresh food wasted by supermarkets, and simply paid their local Sainsbury's a visit and asked permission to collect food that would otherwise be thrown away. Today they deliver £400,000 worth of food a year for free to numerous local registered charities. If you want to get involved you can help with everything from lobbying your local supermarket to donate food, to becoming a delivery driver.

If you have an experience of using or volunteering at a food bank we’d love to hear your thoughts…

Comments, questions and tips

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5th Mar, 2014
Hi! Along with many others I help run the PR for Newark Foodbank. Working with Foodbank has totally changed my perceptions of food poverty - although we think of Newark as a prosperous market town, the Foodbank here feeds around 30 clients every week and the demographic is certainly not what I previously would have thought. After realising that the majority of our clients actually would like to cook more, we are currently in the process of producing a small recipe book using only ingredients that we would supply to our clients - tinned foods and long life packets - we'll give it to our clients along with their food bags, and also sell it to raise funds for the charity. I'm currently in the middle of typing up the recipes ( all conceived by local schools and youth groups ) before testing them and sending them to print - wish us luck, and if anyone would like to purchase the finished item, I'd be eternally grateful!! In an ideal world Foodbanks would be superfluous, but sadly they are becoming more and more essential. All I can say is that I would hope that if I was hungry, someone wouldn't judge me, but would simply feed me. This is what Foodbanks do.
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