What Are Food Banks and How Do They Work?


Image credit – mangostock/


The number of individuals throughout the UK dealing with poverty is staggering. Estimates currently sit around 500,000 for low-income families.  Attempting to feed a family of 4 when your income is dramatically disproportionate is not only stressful but also heart rendering. Fortunately, Food Banks throughout the UK are doing their part to support families and individuals in need. But what exactly is a food bank and who really benefits from them?

What Are Food Banks?

Food Banks, in general, are organised by compassionate members of the community to help those in need. Institutions such as schools, churches, and local businesses encourage people to donate non-perishable in-date groceries to the food bank. Sometimes businesses advertise ‘food drives’ throughout the UK with the goal of getting a lump sum of donations. Often times, supermarkets will even help organise the event by giving customers a ‘donation list’ that specifies certain items that the food bank needs to replenish. Not only is this great for those in need, but it also unifies the community for a greater cause.

Once food is donated to the food bank, volunteers will go through each item to make sure it is in date and non-perishable. The contents of thousands of boxes are manually sorted by people who have a truly giving spirit. After the food is inspected, the food bank will distribute it to those in need. However, low-income families typically have to show proof of their need. This is where professional care institutions come into play.

Who Determines Who Receives Food from Food Banks?

All compassionate organisations are at risk for abuse. For this reason, food banks institute food vouchers for families that are obviously in need. Doctors, policemen, and other government representatives can distribute these food vouchers whenever they feel a family could use them. Food banks partner with a host of professional and governmental organisations to ensure that their food goes to the right place. For example, if a health care professional feels that their patient is suffering from malnutrition or it is clearly visible they are having trouble feeding their family they can then issue a food voucher to their patient. The family can then receive food through any local food bank.

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Once a person has clearly displayed a genuine need for food, they can then retrieve a three day emergency supply of groceries through a local food bank. They will also receive additional support through volunteers who direct them towards long-term care and assistance. This will hopefully eliminate their need to return to the food bank in the future. In other words, food banks are more than just a temporary solution to poverty. They help end the cycle of hunger throughout the UK.

Unfortunately, there is a bit of confusion about what food banks do and who they help. Let’s clear up a few of these myths.

Debunking Food Bank Myths

The Trussell Trust food bank is one of the largest food banks in the UK, and in an effort to bust the bubble on some of the most commonly circulated myths about what they do and the food they give to low-income families, they have spoken out about their work.

Myth #1. Food Bank Food is Unhealthy.

Contrary to popular belief, not all food is acceptable to Food Banks. UK food banks specifically work with nutrition experts to come up with the best possible non-perishable food items. The goal is to not only provide those in need with food but with groceries that have the biggest nutrient bank for the buck, so to speak.

Myth #2. The number of people using Food Banks is in direct relation to those expecting hand-outs.

The myth that food banks in combined effort with the media are contributing to the poverty problem couldn’t be further from the truth. Food Banks receive media attention to reduce the cost of promoting their locations. The number of families using food banks is growing because of an unstable labour market, not because people expect hand-outs. In fact, food banks have systems in place that flag people who receive food more than 3 times within a 6 month period. This puts a stop to would-be abusers.

Myth #3. Supermarkets Should Donate their Left-Overs.

While in theory it might sound like a good idea for grocery stores to donate their left-overs, there are several problems with this idea. First, food banks simply do not have the equipment to hold perishable food. Refrigerators and walk-in storage units are far too expensive. Additionally, Food banks like The Trussell Trust feel that just because people are poor does not mean they should be given out-of-date food. It is a matter of morality as much as it is about the cost of storing perishable goods.

As we sell food in bulk, we felt it was important to relay this information on to you, our community. If you ever find yourself overstocked we urge you to consider a local food bank before heading to the bin.

If you’ve had experience with food banks and have any stories that you’d like to share, we’d love to hear them in the comments below.


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