Food banks: What, where, and why?

Kathryn Wheeler
By Kathryn Wheeler,
updated on Apr 8, 2021

Food banks: What, where, and why?

Demand for food banks is on the rise in the UK. Whether you’re looking for support yourself, or you want to help out, we’ve gathered together everything you need to know

According to the Trussell Trust, in the first six months of the pandemic, nearly 2,600 food parcels were given to children every single day – and between 1 April and 30 September 2020, 1.2 million people in crisis received emergency food parcels. These figures are just a snapshot of the bigger picture, but they tell a story of a nation struggling to adequately care for those who are most vulnerable.

Poverty goes beyond hunger – it consumes your life, and impacts your mental health. One-quarter of adults in the poorest fifth of the population live with anxiety and depression and, on the flip side, those who are struggling with their mental health are more likely to be affected by income loss – making poverty and mental health a vicious, relentless cycle.

No one should have to depend on charity in order to access food, and the responsibility to work towards a hunger-free nation lies with the government. But since March 2020, volunteers and public figures, such as footballer Marcus Rashford, have continued to work tirelessly to support those in crisis – fuelled by compassion, lived-experience, and a drive to make a difference.

Whether you feel empowered to support food banks, or you are in need of help yourself, here, we break down everything you need to know.


Why do people need food banks?

There isn’t a simple answer, as people can find themselves in poverty for a myriad of reasons – including job loss, the breakdown of relationships, illness, and delays to benefits. That said, in areas where Universal Credit has been fully rolled out, food banks have seen an average of a 30% increase in demand. There is a five-week wait for people moving on to UC, which charities see as a contributing factor – and it’s being challenged by the Trussell Trust’s campaign: Five Weeks Too Long.

Accessing a food bank

Where should I go?

The Trussell Trust is the UK’s biggest network of food banks, and you can head to to find a food bank near you.

Additionally, if you are in a financial crisis and live in England or Wales, you can call their free helpline on: 0808 208 2138.

Places of worship also often run their own food banks, and there may be small independent organisations in your area, which you should be able to find by searching online, or watching out for flyers or details in local newspapers.

Each food bank may function slightly differently, so it’s important to check what their procedure is, but many work with a referral agency, who will give you a voucher, which you can then exchange for a minimum of three days’ worth of emergency food. A food parcel will then be created for you, taking into account how many people you need to support, their ages, and any dietary requirements.

What do I need to know?

Visiting a food bank is as much about picking up the supplies that you need, as it is about reaching out for support beyond that. The volunteers who you meet are also there to listen to you, to help you to discover additional resources, and map the steps you can take to move forward.

Something that is often forgotten about life in poverty is how isolating it can be, and a report by the Child Poverty Action Group found that those who used food banks often described the experience as ‘embarrassing’. Shame is a difficult emotion to deal with, but it’s worth remembering that food banks are non-judgemental spaces, where the volunteers are there with a listening ear, and they can also signpost community groups, links with other charities, and support for emotional wellbeing.

Supporting a food bank

Where should I go?

You may have spotted food bank collection boxes in supermarkets – they’re usually behind the checkout area, and this is a really convenient way to donate. Simply add a couple of spare items into your trolley as you’re doing your usual shop, and then drop them in the box on your way out.

You can also look into donating directly to a local organisation – many have donation times where you can drop off items, so it’s worth checking in with them to see if there are certain days you can donate on, or if they have any additional or specific requirements or requests.

You can also donate money to food banks, either one-off donations or set up a monthly payment. This money helps them to run their services and, in the case of the Trussell Trust, also goes towards campaigns to help end food poverty for good.


What do I need to know?

Food banks don’t just supply food, and there’s a host of other household items that you can also donate, including:

  • Toiletries: deodorant, toilet paper, soap, shampoo, dental hygiene products
  • Cleaning supplies: washing up liquid, disinfectants, laundry detergent
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Baby items: nappies, wipes, baby food

Other ways that you can help could be through volunteering your time, or putting on a fundraising event to donate money to your local organisation. It’s also important to keep the conversation going, stay up-to-date with the state of things, and look out for opportunities to get involved in long-term campaigns and movements.

When faced with a problem as big as the one food poverty has become in the UK, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and hopeless. But in difficult times like these, it’s good to reflect on the things that we do have control over, and which we can help with. Big or small, in donations or in fundraising, there are ways that we can all get involved in supporting the people who need it most.

Jo's story

Personal tragedy led Jo to spiral into depression and, soon after, she lost her job during the global pandemic. She managed to find casual work here and there but, after paying off debts, her income from Universal Credit came to just £250 a month – all she had to pay for all her living expenses. On the brink of homelessness, Jo realised that she needed help, but reaching out to a food bank wasn’t easy, and it took courage for her to take that first step.

Yet when she did, she was immediately supported – given a choice of what food she wanted, as well as additional household products. With this care behind her, Jo was able to address other areas of her life, and was put in touch with Beam – a platform that crowdfunds new career opportunities for homeless people.

Although reaching out wasn’t easy, reflecting on the experience, Jo sees how it restored her confidence in people during what was a difficult and isolating time.

The Hunger Free Future is a campaign by the Trussell Trust to end hunger and destitution in the UK, for good. To learn more, and to add
your voice to the movement, head to

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