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This week my local evening paper, ‘The Shields Gazette’, is promoting the fact that South Tyneside’s 4 or 5 Food Banks are all launching appeals for help from readers and other people to feed our local needy citizens this winter and donate some small gifts to help the less fortunate enjoy a better Christmas than they would otherwise expect.

According to Wikipedia, a food bank is loosely defined as a non-profit, charitable organization that distributes food to those who have difficulty purchasing enough to avoid hunger.  You can read more here.  Some food banks operate on the “front line” model, giving out food directly to the hungry, such as many European ones and the majority of the over 1,200 food banks in the UK.

I was astonished to read that St. Mary’s Food Bank was the world’s first food bank, established in the US in 1967 and since then, many thousands have been set up all over the world.  The UK and wealthier nations did not set up food banks until later.  I didn’t realise they were that recent. I know they have been around locally for about a decade but thought they had originally existed in the ‘olden days’ of long ago, when austerity was rife.  It seems they didn’t.

In Europe, which until recently had little need for food banks due to extensive welfare systems, their numbers grew rapidly after the global increase in the price of food which began in late 2006, and especially after the financial crisis of 2007–08 began to worsen economic conditions for those on low incomes.

The growth of food banks has been welcomed by some commentators who see them as examples of an active, caring citizenship. However, it’s a well-known fact that many people feel ashamed at having to use them.

Food banks have been established in the UK since 2004 and became increasingly prevalent following the financial crisis in 2008 and after austerity measures were introduced by the government in 2010.

In the UK, The TRUSSELL TRUST (you can read more here.) supports a nationwide network of more than 1,200 food banks.  Together, they provide a minimum of three days’ nutritionally-balanced emergency food and other support to people in poverty, who have been referred in crisis.  As well as food and support to help people resolve the crises they face, the trust campaigns for change to end the need for food banks in the UK.  Let us hope their campaigning makes a significant impact and the need for such places reduces until they are no longer needed.

Many food banks are able to provide essentials such as toiletries, sanitary products, nappies and pet food. Although they are always grateful to accept food items, why not think outside the box and donate some toothpaste, deodorant and shower gel? They can go a long way in helping somebody to feel better about themselves when they are experiencing a crisis. Get in touch with your local food bank and find out if they include these items before donating them.

In the UK, more than 14 million people are living in poverty – including 4.5 million children. Little wonder that we have so many food banks.


John Lightfoot MBE, Solar Solve Chairman