The aim of food banks is to support local families in crisis who don’t have enough money to buy food. They are given enough food to feed their family (or themselves if they are single) for approximately 3 days.

The reasons why people need to visit food banks include benefit changes and delays, debt problems, sickness and low incomes.

Although figures vary from one locality to another, requests for crisis assistance appear to have been increasing by up to 50% in local areas over recent months.

How can you donate and what should you give?

Donated food and toiletries are left at collection points. These are often supermarkets. Schools, churches and businesses also collect from the public or donate themselves.

In the case of supermarkets, there is often a notice saying ‘Items donated to the food bank should be left in this trolley’. Non-perishable items such as tinned food, cereals, pasta, pasta sauces, biscuits, UHT milk, tea, coffee and juice, toiletries, nappies, household items such as washing up liquid and laundry detergent would all be welcome, but most food banks cannot deal with fresh food. Food banks which have websites often have a helpful ‘wish list’ of items.

How do people access food banks?

David* had lost his job. He was struggling to pay his rent and electricity bill and had run out of food. He went to his local Citizens Advice office to ask for help. He realised that he would need some way of proving that he had no money, so got a balance statement for his bank account, which showed that there was nothing left in the account. After a discussion with the adviser about how he came to be in need, David made an appointment to come back the following day to discuss his situation in more detail and get advice about how to proceed and benefits which might be available. For instance, if an application for Universal Credit was appropriate, Citizens Advice could help him with this. In the meantime, David was given a food voucher to take to the food bank.

How do food vouchers work?

Most food banks work on a voucher system. Partner organisations, such as Citizens Advice offices, some schools, doctors’ surgeries and care centres can issue a voucher to those who they consider to be in urgent need. They will indicate how many adults and children there are in the family and the food bank will issue an appropriate food parcel.

If people need to go back for a further food parcel they will need to ask for another voucher and will be asked further questions about why they need to return. Most food banks have a limit to the number of times people can apply – often 3 times in a 6 month period.

*Not his real name. This is a representative story of someone in need of support. Client confidentiality is always observed.

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