Food banks offer emergency food parcels which usually include three days worth of nutritionally balanced, long life food to people who are struggling to afford to feed themselves.
Many food banks work on a referral basis, so anyone needing help usually has to go through an approved referrer before they can use a food bank. Citizens Advice, GPs, schools, health visitors and other care professionals might issue food bank vouchers if they identify you as someone in need.
Once someone has been referred to a food bank and given a voucher, they can visit their local food bank where they will be given an emergency food parcel containing three days of nutritionally balanced food. They might also receive some non-food items such as sanitary products, nappies or other toiletries, depending on their needs.
Not all food banks require a referral, however, so you may be able to turn up and be issued with an emergency food parcel without needing a voucher. It’s sensible to contact any food bank you’re planning to visit in advance, so you can find out what their requirements are. Obviously the referral process is there to make sure that help is given to those who really need it, but it can also create an additional hurdle to getting help that some might find difficult to navigate during a time of real crisis.
Food banks will often offer other services to help people address the issues that have led them to using the food bank in the first place. For example, this could include advice on their benefit situation, mental health support or financial guidance.
How do food banks get their food?
Food banks rely on donations of food and toiletries as well as cash donations and fundraising. It’s likely that you’ve seen food bank donation bins in your local supermarket. These are regularly emptied and the items given make up a large proportion of what the food bank is then able to hand out in their emergency food parcels.
Who runs food banks?
Food banks are mostly run by charities which operate as not-for-profit organisations. The food banks themselves are usually run by volunteers, but there might also be some paid members of the charity working there as well.
The function of food banks themselves can be a little contentious. Some people feel that food banks are masking a larger issue of food insecurity and inequality that should be addressed by the government, while others fully support the incredibly valuable service they provide to people who really need it.