Ever thought about which items a foodbank actually needs?
I’m taking part in #Foodbankadvent with other UK Money Bloggers again this year, doing a reverse advent calendar to support my local foodbank, Families in Need (FIND) in Ipswich.
During November I’ll be popping one item each day in a box, to donate to FIND in early December, in time for distribution before Christmas. But I wanted to make sure I was giving the right stuff.
Food banks are handing out more emergency food parcels than ever before, to people who would otherwise go hungry. With increased demand, essential items can run low, especially for food banks relying on donations. Some food banks might be swimming in pasta and baked beans, but have empty shelves elsewhere.
So I rang FIND to discover which items they actually need. This should help:
- Save money, so the food bank doesn’t have to buy supplies to fill gaps
- Save space, if they’re not storing mountains of duplicate products
- Save food waste, if overstocked items go past their “use by” dates before distribution
- Avoid giving products that can’t be given out, for example anything including alcohol
Maureen Reynel, founder of FIND, was kind enough to look round the shelves and tell me about gaps.
**Remember, this list is specific to FIND. Your local food bank might have completely different shortages, so do give them a call to find out which items they actually need**
What food does FIND actually need?
|Instead of...||...FIND needs:|
Rice, in smaller (500g) bags
|Tea||Small jars of coffee|
|Tinned fish||Tinned meat: minced beef, stewing steak, corned beef|
|Tinned beans||Tinned vegetables: carrots, peas, sweetcorn, potatoes|
|Cereal and cereal bars||Weetabix, as particularly filling with warm milk|
|Large cartons of skimmed or semi-skimmed milk||500ml cartons long life whole milk|
|Pot Noodles||John West tins of fish with veg, as a whole meal|
|Tinned soup||Tins of rice pudding|
|Glass jars of hot dogs sausages||Tins of hot dog sausages|
|Fresh fruit||Tinned fruit|
|Mince pies with short expiry dates||Tubs of biscuits and sweets for the whole family to enjoy|
|Christmas puddings or other products containing alcohol||Small (500g) bags of sugar|
Jars of jam
|Baby food||Baby milk, especially for newborns|
Listing the items in greatest demand highlighted some of the issues foodbanks face. Whole milk for the undernourished. Providing protein like tinned meat, which is often in short supply. Adding tinned vegetables to make up whole meals. Focusing on food that uses limited fuel to cook, or doesn’t need any cooking facilities at all. Including basics like long life milk, to add to tea, coffee and cereal. And giving small pleasures like jam, sugar and biscuits.
It’s perhaps unsurprising that some of the shortages are for more expensive items – tinned meat, baby milk, coffee – that cost more than a tin of baked beans. During #Foodbankadvent I’ll be looking for ways to spend less but give more, like this previous post with five frugal ways to do a #Foodbankadvent reverse advent calendar.
I also asked about non-food items. Maureen said FIND had lots of toiletries, didn’t need loo roll as they bought in bulk, and described donations of women’s sanitary products as ‘the magic porridge pot’ that just kept filling up. FIND also has a good source of dog and cat food from Blue Cross. So I can scratch those items off my list, in favour of stuff that’s in short supply. However, they might be much-needed near you.
Why donations can make a difference
Filling the gaps can make a genuine difference. Maureen spends £400 to £800 a week on food shopping to cover shortages. FIND has already given out 2,500 emergency food parcels this year, many of which cover more than one person. Volunteers are bracing themselves to prepare the first thousand Christmas parcels by the end of November.
Maureen said: “This year has been much, much more intense than other years, and those were bad enough.”
I asked why, and Maureen cited the increasingly complex issues that force people to turn to foodbanks: Universal Credit, the lack of council housing, pricey private rents, relationship breakdowns, low pay. As the weather turns colder, many struggle to afford both food and heating. Pensioners qualify for Winter Fuel Payments, but as Maureen pointed out: “Cold affects everybody. It doesn’t say: ‘I won’t touch you, I’ll wait unil you’re 65’.”
So on November 1, the first item I added to my reverse advent calendar was a jar of pasta sauce, to help make one meal out of FIND’s mountain of pasta.
Now – over to you. Will you be doing #Foodbankadvent too? What items does your local foodbank need? Do share in the comments, I’d love to hear.
If you would like to donate money instead of food to FIND: click here. FIND has also launched a Lifeline appeal for £100,000 towards a new food bank centre, looking for 50 different workplaces, groups or individuals to each raise £2,000.
FIND is an independent charity, but the Trussell Trust also runs a chain of foodbanks nationwide. Find your local foodbank here.