It’s a sad reality of life in 2022 that more and more people need to use food banks or schemes to help them get food for themselves or their families. All across Wales, volunteers, religious groups and charities run different types of schemes.
Food banks are community organisations that can help if you can’t afford the food you need. You’ll usually need to get a referral to a food bank before you can use it. There are other types of schemes where you can get a one-off meal or heavily discounted food parcel to help when times are hard.
Pressure on food banks has been widely reported in recent months. Here’s our report on volunteers at a food bank in Swansea explaining how their shelves had been stripped bare within two hours of opening. Food banks in the Trussell Trust network distributed over 2.1 million food parcels in 2021-22. You can see a thorough list of exactly what food banks in Wales need right now here.
Food banks vary from area to area
Exactly how your local food bank operates may vary from area to area and can be run by different organisations. Citizens Advice has a guide to food banks on its website. You can ask for a referral from an organisation that’s already supporting you – for example, a charity, school or children’s centre, or from your local council. They recommend asking if there’s a local welfare assistance scheme that can help you as well as the food bank where you might be able to get vouchers for things like clothes or petrol.
The Trussell Trust is a huge national charity which has 1,200 food banks in its network, and you can find your nearest one here. To get food from their food bank you will need to be referred with a voucher. Each food bank works with different frontline professionals, like doctors, health visitors, social workers, and Citizens Advice. These professionals will be able to refer you to a food bank and give you a food bank voucher if they think you need emergency food. Whoever is referring you will need some basic information about you. This will help them to understand why you need support and offer practical guidance and the right emergency food.
Once you have been given a voucher, you can exchange this for a minimum of three days’ emergency food at your nearest food bank centre. The parcels are designed with nutritionists’ help to make sure there are three days worth of balanced food inside . These emergency food parcels are not designed to meet long-term need – that’s why food banks also offer additional support like debt advice where possible.
If you live in a rural area and can’t afford to travel, your nearest food bank might be able to deliver . Call or email them to check and if the food bank’s run by a church or other religious group — they’ll still help you if you’re not religious or from a different religion. If you needed a referral to use the food bank, you’ll need to get another one before you go back and if you have been told your food bank has a limit on the number of times you can visit, it’s still worth asking if you really need the food and you can also get help on debt or problems.
What sort of things are in a food parcel?
A typical food parcel includes:
- Tinned tomatoes/ pasta sauce
- Lentils, beans and pulses
- Tinned meat
- Tinned vegetables
- Tinned fruit
- UHT milk
- Fruit juice
Food banks will also provide essential non-food items like toiletries and hygiene products where they can and if you have dietary requirements, you will be helped to get appropriate food. If they have the facilities to do so, some food banks can also provide fresh food.
When you arrive, a volunteer will take your voucher and check the number of adults and children the food parcel needs to support, the ages of children, and any special dietary requirements you may have. While the food is being prepared, a volunteer will chat to you about your situation and point you to further support if they can, like a local debt advice service. Your food will be packed in supermarket carrier bags – the food bank will supply these, but if you’d prefer to bring your own, these can be used instead.
What else is available?
There is also a network of food surplus groups. Rather than needing a referral, something which often has a stigma attached and can put people off, this means that food that would otherwise have been thrown away is reused. For example, FareShare Cymru was established in 2010 and began delivering food the following year. Quality, in-date surplus food which would otherwise have gone to waste, is redistributed. Surplus food is donated to FareShare, volunteers then make up food orders, it is then delivered to members, which includes places like homeless hostels, community centres, refugee centres etc. The food is then used to create healthy meals for those in need. Members have to pay a fee for the food they receive, but the charity say the retail value of the food received is 5-10 times the membership fee paid.
In Swansea, the Goleudy Community Fridge redistributes donated surplus food. On your first visit you need to provide some personal details and your food parcel is packed for you based on the choices you make. They provide all users with a freshly washed cloth bag on every visit, which needs to be returned the next time you come along, so that we can have it laundered. The service runs on a “pay as you feel” or donation basis.
Food surplus charities were primarily set up to help cut down on waste, but as the cost of living crisis bites, they too are reporting more people attending to get vital food. In Powys, the Newtown Food Surplus Project was set up as an environmental project focussing on redistributing food surplus from supermarkets and making that food available to all via food sharing ‘Pay as you feel’ at weekly events.
There are schemes like Your Local Pantry which is open to all and doesn’t need a referral. You can join for as long as you want, and can choose to go every week or just occasionally. Members pay a small subscription of around £3.50 a week and in return can choose groceries worth many times more, often saving up to £1,000 a year on shopping bills and they are just like any other shop, in that you choose the food you want from the shelves. The shops are run by uniformed staff and volunteers who manage the stores with hand-held technology. There is some membership criteria, to ensure the most needy get the help. The Pantry will never stock food past its sell by date as this could be harmful to health and is against the law but could stock items that are past their best before date. Best before dates are about quality, not safety.
There are a huge variety of schemes all across Wales. In Cardiff, one local scheme is the Splo-Down . They run a weekly member-ran market stall based in the Oasis Centre courtyard every Wednesday 5pm to 7pm and allow people to purchase food and home products at low cost through the benefits of community purchasing at wholesale price. You can pre-order and collect a locally sourced mixed vegetable box or get a solidarity veg boxes. Anyone struggling can get these for free. Find out more here.
There are also schemes like FoodCycle where anyone can attend as a guest and go along to get a free meat-free meal. It is not a food bank scheme – they provide food for you to cook at home – but the idea of this is it’s a way to help those in need, and offer a social aspect too. “Whatever your reason for needing a meal, you are welcome to join us,” FoodCycle say.