Who can use a food bank?

Sep 21, 2022
3 min read
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Food bank support is for anybody who needs short-term food support. This can include those who are homeless, unemployed or employed, but their pay is insufficient to meet their needs. The only requirement to use a food bank is that you have to be referred by a recognised party.

Can I just turn up at a food bank?

Getting a referral

The prerequisite to benefit from food banks is getting a referral from a social worker, general practitioner doctor, the police, a housing officer or somebody from the Citizens Advice Bureau. The best place to start if you are in need of a referral would be to check out your nearest Citizen's Advice. They will likely put you in contact with an advisor, who will determine what benefits are available to you and advise on how you can access these.

Furthermore, you can reach out to your community council and ask them for assistance and any information available about local food banks.

Food vouchers are usually then provided by charities or care professionals after they ask you a few questions about your financial situation to gauge your need, as well as determine what other forms of assistance they can provide you with.

Redeeming a food bank voucher

To redeem a food bank voucher, you will need to visit a food bank centre and produce the voucher for a staff member. They will, in turn, provide you with a food parcel.

Non-perishable, in-date food is donated by public and private entities and delivered to/collected by a food bank. The food is then sorted by food bank staff and pre-packaged into parcels that are given to voucher holders on arrival.

Most often, food parcels must be collected physically at the food bank. However, some food banks will deliver food parcels to those who do not have transport or live in rural areas with limited access to a local food bank.

Calling or emailing your local food bank is an excellent way to find out how they can best help you.

How many times can I use a food voucher?

A referral voucher is necessary for each parcel you can collect from the food bank. If you require more food, you will need another voucher. The number of vouchers that will be available to you depends on the organisation or practitioner that is providing the voucher.

Typically, you can have a maximum of 4 food bank vouchers issued to you, as food bank support is designed to be a short-term solution, and centres will likely wish to assist in more sustainable solutions if your need is more long-term. This amount may, however, vary depending on the centre.

Even if you have been told that there is a finite number of times you can visit the food bank, if you are genuinely in need, it can be helpful to ask. Even if centres are not able to provide you with more food, they may still be able to connect you to meaningful help in other ways, such as debt advice and access to other benefits.

What are the benefits of food banks?


The primary benefit of food banks is the food parcels themselves and the way they provide emergency food to those in crisis. Trussell Trust has worked with nutritionists to ensure that the packages supplied are comprised of at least three days' worth of nutritionally balanced, non-perishable food. Typical parcels can include:

·  Cereal

·  Soup

·  Pasta

·  Rice

·  Tinned tomatoes/ pasta sauce

·  Lentils, beans and pulses

·  Tinned meat

·  Tinned vegetables

·  Tea/coffee

·  Tinned fruit

·  Biscuits

·  Sugar

·  UHT milk

·  Fruit juice

In some instances, where they are able to, some food banks may also offer fresh food.

Jobs and volunteering

While food comes from donations made by individual citizens, churches, schools, businesses, supermarkets, and other charities, there are still considerable costs involved in getting the food to the intended recipients. The donated food needs to be received, checked, sorted and distributed at their relevant centres. This often involves an array of operating costs, transportation costs, building costs and staffing salaries. 

While most of the food bank workforce comprises volunteers, most food banks have at least one salaried staff member. This has not only provided jobs in the charity space but has also created ways for many citizens to help out. According to Trussell Trust, approximately 40,000 volunteers are currently working in food banks across the UK.

Household supplies

While the name may imply that they only provide food, the benefits of food banks extend beyond just food. They also help out with household supplies that include items such as toiletries, baby supplies, and washing powder.

Social support

Food banks have also taken up an essential part of the community. They have become centres for socialising, areas of connection and places of support. In addition, food banks usually endeavour to connect recipients to additional support, such as debt counselling, mental health support, benefits guidance, cooking classes or potential employment opportunities through networking.

In summary

Food banks are here to provide emergency support to those in crisis who do not have money to provide themselves with adequate food. With a referral voucher from a recognised organisation or care professional, those in need can obtain a food bank parcel to assist them with about three days' worth of food to alleviate their short-term need.

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