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Food banks

To look at the introduction of food banks as a response to the current economic difficulties and the rising cost of food.

by James Lamont

Suitable for Key Stage 4/5


To look at the introduction of food banks as a response to the current economic difficulties and the rising cost of food.

Preparation and materials


  1. It is impossible to escape the gloomy economic news. People are losing their jobs, prices are going up, and each day it all seems to be getting worse. In these precarious times, with more and more families depending on benefits and support to get by, a delayed payment or unexpected bill can mean going hungry.

    The Trussell Trust, a large operator of food banks in the UK, reports that in the UK today thirteen million people live below the poverty line.

    A box of food can make a difference. It can tide a family over for a few days, stop children going hungry, and prevent people from being forced to steal or beg.
  2. A food bank is a storage space for donated, non-perishable food, which is then given to people in need.

    Food, usually food which would otherwise be thrown away, is donated by farms, manufacturers, stores and restaurants. In some areas, volunteers go to local supermarkets and ask shoppers to buy an extra tin of food or packet of long-life food to give to the food bank. Or containers for gifts of food are left at the entrance to supermarkets.

    The collected food is taken to a distribution centre, sorted and put into boxes. In the UK, social workers, health professionals and other front-line public servants give food vouchers to families or individuals in need. These people then take their vouchers to their local food bank, where they are given a food parcel or box of food.
  3. The first food bank opened in 1967 in Arizona in the USA. Since then an organization called Feeding America has opened and maintained over two hundred food banks across the USA. There is deep poverty in the USA, as there is here, and food banks help fill the gap between expenses and income.

    As a result of the economic crisis and rising unemployment, food banks have become increasingly common in the UK - in 2011 one or more new food banks were opened every week. The Trussell Trust, which is based in Salisbury, operates a network of food banks. It provides a minimum of three days’ emergency supply of food to people in a crisis. The Trussell Trust reports that in 2010 they provided food for sixty thousand people.

    The Trussell Trust also gives advice and training to local community groups and churches who would like to start their own food bank.
  4. Food banks exist to fill a gap that our society has forgotten about or ignored.

    It’s scandalous that in the UK, in 2012, there should be thirteen million people in poverty. Yet if the economic crisis continues this will only get worse. What is needed is a broader change in our culture.

    Food banks may always remain as a last resort option for a few people who find themselves in a financial crisis. But we should work to ensure that we no longer live in the sort of society in which we need food banks because of widespread poverty.
  5. Still, the charity and public-spiritedness of the volunteers who help in food banks is laudable. They see poverty and injustice and decide to do something about it.

    The importance of getting out there and helping someone else in need is urgent in today’s recession-struck world. Food banks do not change the world, but for the families they help, the world changes.

    Further development
    It could be that your school would like to be involved in the work of your local food bank - encourage your students to think proactively about what they could do.

Time for reflection

Think about what it feels like to be hungry.

It may be that your own family is struggling with the price of food at the moment - how could you support the ‘breadwinners’ in your own life?

Spend a little time thinking about the amount of food that we waste every day - could you buy less? Be more careful in what you buy?

Now think about how lovely it is to be feeling full at the end of a good meal.


Heavenly Father,

thank you for our food,

for the social element of sharing food together,

for those who prepare our food, in whatever context.

Help us to remember those who do not have enough.


‘When I needed a neighbour’ (Come and Praise, 65)

Publication date: January 2012   (Vol.14 No.1)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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