Why food banks are so important and how to support your local branch in the UK

Food banks have seen an enormous surge in demand in the last few years and as inflation rises, so does demand—here's how you can help

Paper bag with crisis food supply for the period of quarantine isolation on pink background with copy space, rice, pasta, oatmeal, canned food, toilet paper. Food delivery, donation during coronavirus.
(Image credit: Andrey Solovev / 500px/Getty Images)

Food banks have reported an enormous surge in demand in recent years, as many people living in the UK are faced with the ravages of the cost of living crisis. Despite the British government's best efforts to obfuscate any responsibility—the numbers of those living in abject poverty have been steadily increasing over the last decade.

Knowing which food banks to donate to, what people actually need, and how you can help means that you could lessen the tide of human suffering.

"Today at the foodbank an ambulance was called, as a 14-year-old fainted and hit his head," begins a Twitter thread from Charlotte White, manager of South West London's Earlsfield food bank. "He hadn't eaten for a while. The cupboards at home were empty."

This is one of the innumerable heartbreaking stories of suffering across the UK today, as the energy crisis rages on, inflation is at a 30 year high, and cuts to benefits and welfare take their toll.

According to their latest report, the number of people receiving three days' worth of emergency food from Trussell Trust foodbanks in the UK has risen from 25,899 in 2008 to 2,537,198 in 2021. 

Food banks are vital for more reasons than one. Not only do they feed those in need, but they offer support and help to those gripped by poverty.

So what can you do to help food banks and those who access their services, across the country?

Food banks—Volunteers pick orders ahead of deliveries to member of the public at the Trussell Trust's Norwood and Brixton Foodbank located in St Margaret's the Queen Church in Brixton south London on January 18, 2022. - Foodbank use is soaring in Britain, with many users not those who would normally expect to have to seek assistance, as soaring inflation, food and energy costs force people to choose between "heating or eating" during the winter months. The Trussell Trust's winter campaign 'Impossible Decisions' - highlights the fact that an ever increasing number of people are having to choose to either stay warm, or to eat - and is calling on governments to strengthen the social security system so that it keeps up with the cost of living and prevents people needing to use food banks.

(Image credit: Ben STANSALL / AFP/ Getty Images)

How to find your nearest food bank

A simple internet search should suffice but if you want to ensure that you can get to a reputable company, fast, then check out the Independent Food Aid Network (IFAN). IFAN's membership includes over 550 independent food banks. These food banks operate all over the UK and provide food aid to people in their communities in a multitude of ways.  

The Trussell Trust is another UK charity that supports a nationwide network of food banks and provides emergency food and support to those who are locked in poverty. They also campaign for change to end hunger and the need for food banks in the UK.

Should I volunteer at food banks?

As most food banks are staffed by an army of volunteers, help is always needed. Your work could be anything from packing food parcels to delivering them, to helping with admin and fundraising or just lending a supportive ear.

It's all hands on deck in these busy organizations and even if they're all staffed up, they'll let you know how you can help. 

What to donate to food banks

Any non-perishable, in-date food can be donated by the public at a range of places, including schools, churches, and businesses, as well as supermarket collection points.

The Trussell Trust suggests taking a look at their sample of an emergency food package, before considering what to donate. 

They've worked alongside nutritionists to ensure that these parcels contain a minimum of three days' worth of nutritionally balanced meals.

Suggested donations include:

  • Cereal
  • Soup
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Tinned tomatoes/ pasta sauce
  • Lentils, beans and pulses
  • Tinned meat
  • Tinned vegetables
  • Tea/coffee
  • Tinned fruit
  • Biscuits
  • UHT milk
  • Fruit juice

Food isn't all that people need to survive and the charity also added a list of the toiletries and household items that they suggest donating to your local food bank.

  • Toiletries—deodorant, toilet paper, shower gel, shaving gel, shampoo, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, hand wipes
  • Household items—laundry liquid detergent, laundry powder, washing up liquid
  • Feminine products—sanitary towels and tampons
  • Baby supplies—nappies, baby wipes and baby food
  • Face masks and hand sanitizer

Food banks—Toiletry supplies are storcked at Wandsworth foodbank as volunteers prepare food parcels for guests from their stores of donated food, toiletries and other items on May 5, 2017 in London, England. The Trussell Trust, who run the food bank, report that dependency on their service is continuing to rise, with over 1,182,000 three day emergency food supplies given to people in crisis in the past year. 436,000 of these recipients were children.

(Image credit: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Should I donate money to food banks?

Many services, including the Margate Independent Food Bank, suggest donating money instead of items. According to the organization, "Cash donations go a lot further as we can buy in bulk at vastly reduced prices from our suppliers such as Fareshare and Bookers Cash & Carry."

By donating money to your nearest food bank, or a larger charity that's fighting to end hunger across the UK, you can help those in need now.

Write to your MP

By taking the time to write to your MP asking them to address the root causes of poverty, you can help to raise awareness about the issue—which isn't solved by filling cupboards alone.

Richard Walker, the head of the supermarket chain Iceland, told BBC Radio 4's Today program that the issue of hunger is more complicated than the food itself. He explained that food bank users in the UK have been saying 'no' to potatoes and root vegetables because they can't, "afford the energy to boil them."

The businessman added that the cost-of-living crisis is the, “single most important domestic issue that we’re facing as a country, and it is incredibly concerning."

IFAN has provided a template to make the process of writing to your MP easier for you.

Aoife Hanna
Junior News Editor

Aoife is an Irish journalist and writer with a background in creative writing, comedy, and TV production.

Formerly woman&home's junior news editor and a contributing writer at Bustle, her words can be found in the Metro, Huffpost, Delicious, Imperica and EVOKE.

Her poetry features in the Queer Life, Queer Love anthology.

Outside of work you might bump into her at a garden center, charity shop, yoga studio, lifting heavy weights, or (most likely) supping/eating some sort of delicious drink/meal.