Foodbank usage in the UK has increased in the past few years — with benefit changes, problems with benefit systems, low income and debt being the main causes.
Specifically, difficulties caused by Universal Credit have been a major factor.
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Objectively, it’s pretty ridiculous that foodbanks even have to exist in a first-world country as hilariously rich as the UK. But I’m not going force my political views on you here — rather I’d like to show that people need food and the direct action that can help.
So, what to do, aside from political action?
Give money, give food or give labour. In this post I’m going to be focused on giving food.
But. You can hand over your money here (or search for your local foodbank).
Make a donation
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And find details of volunteering here (or, again, search for your local foodbank).
What food is given to those in need?
The Trussell Trust has a standardised food parcel that aims to cover the nutritional needs of an adult for three days.
These parcels feature a nutritionally balanced set of food and occasionally non-food items like toiletries.
An extremely impressively in-depth report on food parcel nutritional make up was created by University College London, and is published at https://www.trusselltrust.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2018/06/Food_Parcel_Report_April_2018.pdf (PDF, 507KB)
The key is that donated food is non-perishable, as foodbanks generally don’t have a fridge or freezer and a bulk order of food may sit on a shelf for up to a couple of weeks.
What to donate?
Generally any donations of non-perishable food is good — if you want to make a food donation with little hassle this is the way to do it.
Here’s some suggested items, in descending order of what I’ve seen to be useful…
- Tinned meat (pies, stews, curries, processed meat, fish)
- Soup (vegetable, chicken, tomato, fish)
- Tinned vegetables (beans, sweetcorn, potatoes, carrots, peas)
- Tinned tomatoes (chopped, whole, pasta sauces)
- Milk (UHT)
- Cereal & oats
- Dried noodles & pasta
- Spreads (peanut butter, jam, marmalade)
- Tinned desserts (fruit, custard, puddings)
- Tea & coffee
Perishable items are generally bought by foodbanks on demand and on the day, or donated by local businesses like a greengrocers or bakery.
However, they can also be bought by a donor but, again, you have to be careful to make sure it’ll last at least three or more days without refrigeration.
It’s best to check with the individual foodbank to see if they can utilise the items like root vegetables (e.g. potatoes, carrots, swede, parsnips etc) or bread.
Some foodbanks also give out non-food items to help people in crisis maintain their dignity. You should however check before potentially lumbering an organisation with items they are unable to give out.
Suggested non-food donations…
- Tampons & sanitary pads
- Razors & shaving gel
- Shower gel
- Toothbrushes & toothpaste
- Baby supplies (wipes, nappies)
- Other household items (toilet roll, handwash, laundry detergent, washing-up liquid)
Foodbanks in religiously diverse areas of the country often prefer to receive meat products that don’t contain pork.
A common thread in foodbanks I’ve visited is that they don’t get enough meat products donated in general — presumably because of the higher per-item cost over other donations such as baked beans & pasta.
School holidays are a big problem for people unable to afford food as the usual free school meals their children receive aren’t available. Some food banks, and Salvation Army outlets, require donations of items suitable for giving out as replacements for school lunches.
Here’s an example from Sid Valley Foodbank…
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Foodbanks will often provide basic counselling services for their visitors that sometimes includes prayer. I’m not a fan of this, and wonder if foodbanks would be more effective being secular organisations (but still acknowledging their roots) in a similar way to The Samaritans.
To volunteer at a foodbank you’ll need to be DBS checked, and obviously if visiting you should be very respectful of the confidentiality of the other people there.
Foodbanks often accept donations at drop off points in supermarkets.
However, internet supermarket shopping has made it cheap and easy to get exactly what’s required delivered directly to the location where it’s sorted and distributed to those in need.
Here’s the drill. You can go do this right now.
Foodbanks often publish lists of what items they need on their websites or Facebook pages.
They also publish the time and location where they accept donations.
Here are some examples:
Donate food | Norwood & Brixton Foodbank
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Sid Valley Food Bank
Sid Valley Food Bank, Sidmouth. 565 likes. The Sid Valley Food Bank is an initiative of the churches in the Sid Valley.
How to donate food
Food can be left at the Unitarian Chapel (see Contact Us for a map) on Friday afternoons between 12.00 and 15.00…
Putting the donation location address in an online supermarket will then allow you to book a slot at the day and hour food donations are accepted.
Then it’s just a case of ordering what the location needs up to the minimum order level of the supermarket and paying.
Maximise your donation
- Use loyalty cards for discounts.
- Supermarket own-brand items offer just as good food for often much, much less money.
- Multi-buy deals work great for this. You might not use the many tins of something required to get a lower price, but a foodbank certainly will. Don’t be afraid that you’ll over-order something that’s needed.
- Don’t buy items packed in bulk unless they can be divvied up by the foodbank without opening the container. Food is given to recipient to cover three days.
- Be clever with item sizes. A 400g tin of food probably will be cheaper per calorie and therefore a better buy than a 200g one. But, as above, you probably don’t want to buy, say, the single 1kg item as it’s unsuitable for distribution in a food parcel.
- Pick the cheaper delivery slots, or use a scheme like Tesco’s Delivery Saver.
- If possible pick a delivery slot earlier rather than later in the foodbank’s opening hours. That’ll allow time for sorting the donation and possibly handing out in a parcel the same day.
- Use the online store’s delivery instructions text box to let the delivery driver know the order is for the foodbank. Also include the foodbank’s phone number, if possible. Saying ‘thank you’ in this box is recommended too!
Being a web developer, I wondered if it would be possible to scrape foodbank websites to discover their needs and then accessing supermarket APIs (e.g. Tesco) to find the lowest prices in order to generate loaded & optimised full shopping carts.
Some sort of crowdfunding donations might be interesting. 100 people putting in £1 a week buys a lot of food for a single foodbank. Could also provide predictable deliveries.
Supermarkets should offer free delivery to foodbank addresses. Or perhaps some sort of credit on your account — maybe in the form whatever loyalty points system they use.
Currently there is no way to discern which foodbank is in more need of food than another. I’ve seen foodbanks in (apologies for the crude classification here) ‘rich’ areas with empty shelves, and others in ‘poor’ areas with so much excess food they supply their neighbouring foodbanks. Unsure how this could be solved.
Talk to me on Twitter if you’ve got an questions or suggestions around all this. I’m very keen to hear what you have to say…
Jason Cartwright (@jasoncartwright) | Twitter
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