Food banks are stores of food that people can access on request or by referral. Food is donated by schools, churches, businesses and individuals and held in a central location. Food banks supply certain foods, generally essentials that are non-perishable (i.e. they won’t go off). Volunteers check and sort the food into boxes. People in need of emergency food are identifed by doctors, health visitors and social workers and are given a voucher. This supplies them with three days’ worth of food, along with further advice and support. They also provide ‘baby basics’ for new mothers and extra items at Christmas.
In 2014, approximately 4 million people in the UK were in food poverty. These people may need to access food banks if faced with a sudden loss of income or change in circumstances. The Trussell Trust (website) oversees 400 food banks across the UK. In April 2015 they identified that over one million people were relying on food banks.
Food banks help to improve food security by reducing hunger and improving people’s diets, which in turn improves their health. Some shops and bakeries donate unsold items to food banks which reduces food waste. Also, some food banks provide lessons in cooking and budgeting to help people with limited finances eat more healthily.
However, food banks don’t solve the underlying problem of low wages and benefit cuts. They are only a short-term solution. It’s also difficult for food banks to store fresh food so a lot of the food given out is processed (e.g. biscuits, tinned soup); these can have added salt and sugar which cause health problems.