First of all, it is important to note that the services provided by food banks may vary from area to another.
Food banks react to the needs of the community to best offer help and support to local people who are in crisis.
So, the questions is: What are some general rules and regulations for using a food bank in England?
You can go to some food banks even without a referral. So, you might find an independent, local food bank advertising their services online in your area.
If not, as a rule you will need someone to refer you (e.g. a charity, GP, or a social worker). In fact, contacting the nearest Citizens Advice office is one of the easiest ways to ask for a referral.
Tell the Citizens Advice staff that you need a food bank. They will try to make you an appointment so you can discuss your situation with one of their advisers.
During the interview you will get asked some questions about your income and your needs. They will ask whether you need the food for yourself or for all of your family. If you qualify for a food bank, they will inform you how to get the food products.
Ask the adviser about any other local help that you might get. They can help you check what benefits you should be getting if you are not currently claiming them.
Note: Another place to get a referral to a food bank is the local council authority. Be sure to ask them if there is a local welfare assistance scheme in your area when you contact the council. You may get vouchers for clothes or petrol.
Food Donations Made by the Public
Members of the public can make donations of non-perishable in-date food at various places. As a rule, you can donate at churches, businesses, schools, and supermarket collection points.
Thousands of volunteers will then sort out the donations into emergency food parcels and give them to people in need. In short, food banks rely on support from local communities to help end hunger.
Issuing Food Vouchers
A range of care professionals help to identify the most vulnerable people in crisis. Thus, health visitors, schools, and social workers can issue a food bank voucher to the most needy.
Those identified can receive a food bank parcel that contains non-perishable, nutritional items. In most cases, a parcel of emergency food should last about three days.
Important: The new ‘Changing Futures programme‘ will help vulnerable adults who are experiencing domestic abuse, mental health issues, substance misuse, homelessness, and contact with the criminal justice system.
When You Go to a Food Bank
The person who gives you a referral should tell you the location of the food bank. For example, the Trussell Trust runs more than a thousand food banks (shown on their website).
Of course, it may be more difficult if you live in a rural area and you cannot pay to travel. In this case, check to see if the nearest food bank will deliver emergency food to you.
Some churches, and other religious groups, also run food banks. Rest assured that they will still help you even if you are not religious or you follow a different religion.
Using a Food Bank Again
As a rule, you would need to get another referral if you need to go back and use the food bank more than once.
Some food banks have a limit on the number of times you can visit. Even so, if getting the food is an emergency, it would be worth asking again (e.g. at the nearest Citizens Advice).
The adviser will want to know why you still need the services of a food bank. But, they would refer you if they believe it is the best way to help. You would also get advice on debt or benefits problems even if they are unable to make the referral.
Note: You can use a free benefits calculator if you are over 18 years old to check what you might be able to get.