Despite the title of this article, it’s important to note from the start that if you’re thinking of donating food or toiletries to your local food bank - please, please do. Food banks operate solely through donations offered by the public and local businesses and there are countless people who use them who would literally starve without those donations
. If in doubt, bring your donation anyway - it will always be put to good use!
That said, it’s worth knowing what food banks really need and giving some thought to what items might not be very practical.
What do food banks need?
Basic, non-perishable essentials are in constant demand. Many food banks have pop-up cafes that teach people how to cook with the essentials that they typically receive. Pasta, rice, pasta sauce, tinned meat, fish and vegetables, oats, cereal, jam, tea, coffee and toiletries will always be put to good use. Your local food bank may well have a list of items they are particularly in need of at any given time; if they have a collection point at your local supermarket it will usually have a list attached to highlight whatever they are particularly short of at that time.
What are food banks not allowed to hand out?
Anything containing alcohol and anything alcohol-flavoured
is prohibited because sometimes recovering alcoholics need to use the food banks and receiving these goods might endanger them or make life very difficult for them. Whisky-flavoured marmalade, for example, could not be given out in food packages.
Food banks are also not allowed to hand out baby formula
due to UNICEF guidelines on encouraging breastfeeding. (Vouchers can be handed out to enable people to buy baby formula if needed.) Anything without a best-before or use-by date cannot be handed out, and nor can anything homemade or that does not have ingredients listed.
Opened or used goods
(including half-used toiletries) cannot be given out either, mainly because of the risk of contamination but also because it would rather take away the recipients’ dignity if they were required to receive half-used products and leftovers.
Food banks are charities and have to be very, very careful about adhering to rules and regulations around hygiene and food safety. Donations are weighed in and out and everything is carefully accounted for.
What do food banks struggle to receive?
Typically, food banks tend to receive rather strange donations around Christmas and New Year
- mainly goods that have been part of elaborate Christmas hampers that are not wanted or needed by donors. These can be lovely - Christmas cakes, biscuits and chutneys - but they can be rather impractical. What would someone who has no money for pasta do with truffle oil, for instance? Caviar may be a delicacy, but it’s not very filling and is difficult to make a meal with for a family.
Anything that needs to be stored in a fridge or freezer can’t be handed out and usually cannot be stored by the food bank as they lack the necessary facilities.
Nothing goes to waste!
Even if food banks receive donations that they cannot give out, they still put those items to good use.
Anything with alcohol is often donated to local hospices, for example, whilst items that have passed their best-before date (but are still edible) may be given to local homeless charities. Luxury items can be bundled up and put into hampers for raffles to raise money for more essentials. If in doubt, bring it anyway - you’ll never be turned away and even the most peculiar donations will be gratefully received.
At Safestore we have a Charity Initiative where we donate one storage unit each of our stores to local charities. Throughout the year we have several foodbanks currently storing with us. Check out our Charities Category to learn more about how we support the great work of local charities.