Donating to food banks: How can UK businesses help

Spikes in the cost of living have made food insecurity a more prevalent problem than ever in the UK. Food banks nationwide are seeing record levels of demand for food parcels, and they count on donations more than ever, especially around the holiday season.

Often, individuals and businesses donate food and treats without much thought to how they can feasibly be used by the recipient, making things more difficult for the food bank.

In this piece, we discuss how your company can make the most on-the-ground impact with your food donations. But before that – let us answer a crucial question:

How do food banks work?

Food banks are established to assist community members who are facing difficulties affording food. Donations of essential items are frequently collected by schools, churches, community centres, big supermarkets, and charities to help support food banks.

Those in need typically require a referral from a support service or professional, such as Citizens Advice, a child’s school, or a food distribution charity. If they are unsure of where to seek a referral, their local council may be able to assist them in finding a food bank.

Before being referred to a food bank, individuals are questioned about their needs, income, and the number of people they support so that advisers can determine if they should be referred for sufficient food to feed their families. Once referred, they are given a voucher that can be redeemed for three days’ worth of emergency food at a nearby food bank.

When they arrive at the food bank to collect their food, they are often greeted with a cup of tea and a conversation to determine any other support they require. While food banks are created to address the immediate need for food, many volunteers try to connect people in need with other support services.

How can businesses donate to food banks?

Partaking in this activity is a significant way to support your local communities and help those in need. By donating food to food banks, you demonstrate your corporate social responsibility and contribute to minimising hunger. Additionally, it fosters goodwill with the local community and among customers and employees. Here is how your business can offer help:

1. Think beyond pasta and rice

Dry goods like pasta and rice get donated most often, but food banks need things like tinned vegetables, tinned meat and long-life beverages like milk or juice – in other words, components of a balanced meal.

Therefore, opt for no-cook or minimal-cook items. Many families who come to food banks do not have access to heating or a cooking range. For them, tinned goods like tuna or sweet corn that can be eaten cold straight from the pack are ideal, paired with bakery goods like bread or savoury biscuits.

Another option is instant noodles or potatoes, where the family only needs to add hot water, or ready-made microwave meals. Also, check the best-before dates. Those who come to food banks deserve fresh, high-quality food as much as we do. Food banks are not the place to drop off stale items – check the dates on everything your employees donate.

2. Include treats for kids

Whether it is the holiday season or not, families will be grateful for the sweet treats they can give their children. Therefore, consider donating multipacks of chocolate, biscuits, cakes or sweets that can be split up and divided across individual food parcels.

3. Supply hygiene essentials

Families who visit food banks often need non-food items too. Toothpaste, toothbrush, toilet paper, soap, sanitary products, diapers and wet wipes are often welcome additions to food bags.

4. Consider donating money or skills

Increasingly, food banks are welcoming monetary donations rather than donations in kind so they can plan and budget for meals to cater to all the different family and dietary needs they must meet.

Donating money also covers overhead costs such as rent, van fuel expenses, and energy bills, and some food banks may choose to provide vouchers rather than food.

Another option is to donate time, such as by volunteering to deliver food or interact directly with the families who come to the bank, or skills, such as by setting up the food bank’s website or designing promotional content for them before the holiday season.

5. See what your supermarket offers

Many UK supermarkets offer pre-packed food parcels that you can purchase and that volunteers will later drop off at food banks. For instance, Lidl has marked 30 long-shelf-life items with a “Good To Give” label that you can pick up and add to the rest of your shopping cart. Several will also top up what you donate by a certain percentage in the form of a monetary donation.

6. Talk to your local food bank about what they need

There are over 2000 food banks across the UK. Locate the one nearest to you, visit them in person and find out what food and essential items they most need. This ensures they can create more varied and nutritious food parcels and helps your business have more of a direct impact.

7. Work with food donation apps

If choosing what to donate on your own is too confusing, there are third-party apps that match your donations with what food banks need. For instance, Bankuet takes requests from food banks and then uses your donations to buy those specific items.

Another option is to donate money to FareShare, which redistributes extra food to charities that turn them into meals for needy families.

8. Think beyond food donation

Donating to food banks is a short-term solution – in the long term, what must end is poverty and food insecurity. As a business, you can lobby for higher budgets to support needy families, a higher minimum wage and stronger benefits for marginalised communities.

You can also organise an awareness drive urging people to donate more and vote for ministers committed to ending poverty.

What to do avoid in your donations

Heavy items
Bulk bags of rice or lentils might seem like a good idea, but remember that the recipient may have to carry them back home on foot or public transport. Instead, donate multipacks that the food bank can divide across food parcels.

A bottle of wine or brandy-spiked chocolates might be a treat for you. But food banks do not know anything about the history of the families who come (including, in particular, any record of alcohol abuse), so those are strictly off-limits.

Where can you donate food?

Several major UK supermarkets can donate food in-store following your weekly shop. For instance, Tesco features food collection points at 450 of their stores, and they even supplement customers’ food donations with a financial contribution equal to 20% of the donated items’ worth.

Morrisons shoppers can purchase pre-packed bags of groceries called “Pick Up Packs” at their local branch, priced between £1 and £3 and designed to meet the requirements of nearby food banks. The Pick Up Packs are paid for at the till with the rest of your shopping and are subsequently collected by volunteers working for the food bank.

Asda provides donation trollies in their stores; the nearest location can be found by searching their website. Meanwhile, Waitrose features food bank collection points in all their stores (except Shell and Welcome Break shops).

Over to you

No one deserves to go to bed hungry. Food banks are doing heroes’ work day in and day out, and they need us to chip in. Rather than just dropping off our leftover supplies, businesses can be intentional with their donations by thinking about the recipient and what they might need – not only for subsistence but also to derive the same nutritional benefits and enjoyment from meals as we do. Locate your nearest food bank today and make a difference for a needy family.

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