Supermarket foodbank collection – a dilemma

The other week I had a moral dilemma. Perhaps that sounds more dramatic than it actually was. If I stuck to my principles, it would either have been even more of a dilemma or, in fact, I’d have acted differently. Here’s what happened…

I was shopping in my local Tesco. If you’re a regular reader you may know that supermarket shopping makes me feel guilty because of a range of ethical and environmental factors (you can read more here). If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll also know that I’ve gave up supermarkets for Lent last year, and for 28 days the year before. I plan to go supermarket-free again for Lent this year. I don’t live my life sans supermarkets for the rest of the year but I do try to limit my expenditure in them, especially in favour of shopping locally. Anyhow, on this particular day last week I was doing my shopping in Tesco, and Tesco was collecting for the local foodbank.

When I see a collection point for a foodbank, I want to help. Of course I do. The thought of there being people in this country – people in my community – having too little to feed themselves, is both shocking and humbling. Thank goodness for foodbanks – for their ability to provide, and for the way that they mobilise those who would like to help, into action.

My initial feeling on seeing the collection point was positive. Here was a super-convenient way to donate – my alternative is to take items on foot to the local library, where there is a collection box. This however is rarely emptied, presumably due to lack of donations. I never feel that aid is being rushed to those who need it.

Swiftly on the back of feeling pleased to have the opportunity to donate, guilt washed over me and I felt frustrated that by donating to the food bank, Tesco was going to benefit even more, as a result of my additional purchases.

Still, faced with a lack of convenient options for giving to the food bank, at least Tesco is doing something. It even had an initiative to add an extra 30% on to customer donations. I have no idea if this benefits Tesco in any way in terms of tax relief for example, but it seems to be a generous and significant gesture.

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I am that strange person who takes pictures of foodbank signs!

I’ve been here before with the supermarket vs food bank dilemma. Eighteen months ago, my local foodbank was looking for volunteers to hand out leaflets in Tesco, encouraging customers to donate items. I’d not long finished my 28 days of ‘supermarket-free-ness’ and it was a struggle to decide what to do.

After huge internal debate I volunteered – and last week, I donated a bag full of food. Nothing in me wants to increase Tesco’s sales – yet I just can’t stand by and watch people struggle, when there is an almost effortless solution being presented to me in a shop which I (let’s face facts) use regularly. For me to have walked away would have been hugely hypocritical, and would have caused me more guilt than shopping at the supermarket does anyway.

So what can I do to ensure I am never again faced with such a dilemma? My answer is, of course, twofold.

Firstly I have to work harder towards not shopping in the bloody supermarket! To resolve myself of all of the guilt that goes hand in hand with that particular activity, I need to keep out of there. You can read more in this post about my difficulties in going completely supermarket-free. The bottom line is though that I need to make obliterating my reliance on the supermarket a real goal. I am definitely due another look at ways I can trim my spending there. However, as long as I am shopping in supermarkets, I will be donating whenever the food bank is collecting.

Secondly, I need to find other convenient ways of donating to the foodbank. As I said, I donate when I go to the library. I do this on most visits, but as said visits usually coincide with returning books that are horribly overdue, my donations aren’t particularly regular.

As a family, we have sent a cheque to the foodbank before, but I am aware that this didn’t allow us to add Gift Aid. As I write this, I realise that at 25%, Gift Aid falls only slightly short of Tesco’s 30% contribution to all donations? I’m also wondering if Gift Aided cheques would allow foodbanks to purchase a greater amount of food themselves from wholesalers? Do foodbanks have enough volunteers to go out and buy food, or is it a valuable time-saver to have food already bought for them?

I have sent an email to the Trussell Trust (the organisation with the most responsibility for foodbanks in the UK) asking those questions and am waiting on a reply. I have also tweeted my local foodbank.

There are also options for donating time to helping with the foodbank and, of course, helping with preventative measures, such as lobbying the local MP for policy changes that will reduce reliance on foodbanks. According to the Trussell Trust here 30.93% of people referred to the foodbank in 2013-14, were in need of help due to their benefit payments being delayed. Other types of volunteering, such as working in a Citizens Advice Bureau, would also help potential foodbank clients to claim money that they are entitled to, thus possibly reducing the numbers of people that need to rely on food aid.

In the meantime, if you wish to make a food donation, here’s a screenshot of a typical foodbank shopping list

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(Eastbourne shopping list)

I know that some foodbanks are especially keen to receive Christmas-related food gifts just now, such as biscuits, chocolate and Christmas puddings 🙂

Would stumbling across a collection point in the supermarket cause you a dilemma? If you have any thoughts on foodbanks, supermarkets or the interaction between the two, I’d love to hear them.

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14 thoughts on “Supermarket foodbank collection – a dilemma

  1. I found your post thought provoking, having never thought beyond how useful it is to have a visual prompt and how easy it is to donate. My local alternative collection point is church? But I never think to take a donation unless it’s Harvet service. It saddens me that food banks are part of life, and that the ‘state’ refer people when in a crisis – somehow I feel that we as a country should have enough to go round for everyone.

    • Thanks for reading! Yes, I totally agree that there should be enough for everyone, it’s a terrible situation and so wrong that the state is the one making referrals. Bring on the 2015 elections…!

  2. I thoroughly understand this dilemma. Next time, you could buy sugar or beans or something in one of the local indie shops and then pop it into Tesco’s foodbank collection bin… Tesco may not add 30% if it realises that the products are not from the shop (but tate & lyle sugar is tate & lyle sugar, ditto Heinz baked beans…) but at least you will also be supporting local shops.

    • Apologies for the very late comment, I’ve been neglecting my poor blog! Thanks for that, yes – great idea. We’ve got to get creative to try and meet our conflicting priorities!!

  3. No easy answer is there? In choosing charities to support this festive season we have been discussing foodbanks and did not come to a final conclusion about the best way to donate. Our Co-op store has a collection bin, though, and I like them a little better than Tesco, so that is probably going to be our route. Even so, I’m appalled that this is necessary in our affluent country.

    • Apologies for the delay, Christmas preparations are to blame but I’m back!! Thanks for commenting. I got an email back from the Trussell Trust double ss, double tt??) and they advise the best thing to do is contact your local foodbank and ask how they’d prefer to receive donations. I agree that it is awful that foodbanks are ‘necessary’ when we live in a country that can, but chooses not to, feed its population.

  4. I totally sympathise with the dilemma you had. I found it is hard to donate actual food to my local foodbanks (your library scheme sounds good) but easier to donate money. That’s why I set up a foodsharing group for my local area on Facebook. My idea was to get lots of people in my local area to join and to use the group to give away food that they couldn’t use from their homes e.g. because they no longer like something they have in their cupboard / can’t use stuff up in time before they go on holiday etc – a type of freecycle with food. Also we arrange bulk buying through the group. The idea is to reduce food waste and ideally in the long run when the group is bigger – for people who really need it to have a constant source of free food on offer. As it is for all to give and receive food the other idea is that there is no social stigma about using it. The group is small at the moment, but I’m hoping it will grow. It was really easy to set up – took me 5mins, I invited all my local facebook friends to join and have tried to advertise it through leaflets and notes in local newsletters. One of the good things about it is that I don’t have to leave my house to give away food – people can come and collect it from me! Do you think setting up a group like that could work for you?

    As far as making supermarkets a less permanent part of your life, I have been finding the following is helping me – I currently get fruit and veg boxes delivered, get milk and bread delivered by the milkman, buy most of my dried goods in bulk and visit the fishmongers/ butchers every few weeks to buy meat, fish and cheese. My local corner shop, grocers and butcher all open around 7.00/7.30 in the morning and in the school holidays I go really early to do my shopping if I need to and come back before my husband needs to leave for work.

    • So sorry for my late reply to your wonderful comment. I have neglected my blog over the festive period but we are happily reunited now!!

      You are inspiring in this area! I absolutely love your foodsharing group idea. I think it was quite revolutionary to set up and would be amazing if more were replicated. Unlike a foodbank there is absolutely no stigma at all as it has the aim of reducing food waste.

      I am going supermarket-free again for Lent so it’s another great chance to reduce my dependence and embrace local food shopping. Each year I get a step closer to freeing myself of their shackles!

      Hope you’ve been having a lovely time over the holidays – look forward to sharing our challenges on social media in 2015 x

    • Hi Zoe, this sound so awesome! Do you have any more information about the group you set up? I’m assuming you must have written about it on your blog…? Things like how you got it started, what works, what didn’t, any issues you had? I’m hoping to start something similar when I move and I’d love to hear from you! (You can email me directly if you don’t want to clog up Westy’s page!)

  5. An interesting post. We have a foodbank local to us and our church has a box at the front for donations which is emptied regularly so it’s easy for me. I can also pop in to my foodbank to drop items off so I am quite lucky in that respect.

    Our foodbank collects in Asda on a monthly basis so would present the same dilemma as your Tesco one. However they do regular days (I’m not actually sure what it is but it’ll be something like the 3rd Wednesday of each month) that way you can know in advance when they are there and pop down with donations bought elsewhere.

    Our foodbank are also willing to collect donations if you can’t make it there/to a collection point. It’s worth a telephone call/email to see what they offer/if they have any other collection points than the library.

    • Thanks for your comment Nicola and sorry about the delay in replying. I’ve been in a festive frenzy which has kept me away from the blog…but I’m back!! 🙂

      You are right, I should find out how else I can donate to the foodbank. I received a helpful reply back from the Trussell Trust who showed me how to Gift Aid donations online and were generally lovely so I’m all set for supporting them in 2015 🙂

  6. I’m just catching up with my pre-Christmas blog reading now, but I see from your replies to the others that you had a break too – phew, I don’t feel so bad!

    The stubborn part of me would deliberately buy things from somewhere else to donate to Tesco’s food banks! I can completely relate to all of your dilemmas – yes it’s terrible that they need to exist, yes it’s a good thing that we are able to help others, and yes, Tesco does seem to be profiting out of it! There’s plenty of things they could do to reduce food waste and donate food if they wanted to…but I digress.

    I have my own dilemma relating to food banks. At Christmas we asked for no presents, but Glen’s grandad (who is almost 90) doesn’t really understand and likes to get us presents. For the last 4 years we’ve received chocolates. Thing is, they aren’t good quality chocolates, and we get two boxes each! (Quantity over quality sadly – if only he just saved his money or bought one nice one). The last few years Glen took them to work, but this year we gave them to the food bank. Thing is, I don’t want to eat them because they’re full of sugar and preservatives and nasty ingredients, but then I feel guilty at giving them to someone else to eat instead!

    • I have a similar dilemma. My kids get lots of rubbish sweets in party bags that I don’t let them touch! I donate them to the foodbank too so that they don’t go to waste but I feel bad too. My reasoning though is that lots of people give them to their kids as treats so if other parents choose to, then that’s their shout. I’m sure they’ll only be given as extras at the foodbank and not part of essential packs.

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