Is this a blueprint for a more humane food bank?

Mar 26, 2024 | News

The Bread and Butter Thing runs 90 UK hubs, and it’s impossible to predict what you’ll leave with. The only thing that is guaranteed is a chat and lots of tea with friendly faces. Experts will be available to give advice on a variety of topics, including finding a job, registering for baby-parent classes, or coping with mental health issues.

The contents of these bags may be unknown, but they are all surplus food that otherwise would be wasted. This is a foodbank with a difference.

Food comes from farms and factories, as well as supermarkets. It could be a side or whole celeriac.

The result is that more than 100 tonnes (equivalent of 1 million meals per month) of perfectly edible produce is saved each week, while its 45,000 members save collectively over PS4.8m a year.

The impact of The Bread and Butter Thing is not only evident in numbers, but also in other less quantifiable ways. It has, for example, brought nutritious food to places in the country where there is no access to fresh foods at low prices. And its hubs allow people to exchange suggestions for healthy meals. The goal is to bring about long-lasting changes in neighbourhoods that are struggling.

It hasn’t been unrecognised. The Bread and Butter Thing won the Community Partnership of the year award at the latest Global Good Awards. The awards were established in 2015 to recognize businesses, NGOs and charities around the globe that “blaze the trail for purpose driven sustainability and ethical leadership”. The Bread and Butter Thing immediately captured the judges’ imaginations.

Mark Game, CEO of the project, explains what he believes is its USP: “The Bread and Butter Thing” is about building strong communities and creating ways out of poverty. “More than 80% of our members had to skip meals in order to feed their families. Most members save at least PS25 per week on their food budget, and enjoy the benefits of a higher quality and wider variety of food .”

Sign up is free and you can find your nearest hub by visiting the website. Volunteers like Lynne Daley will be there to welcome them. Here’s a look at what Daley does on a normal day…

It feeds my soul. A typical day of a The Bread and Butter Thing Hub volunteer

I am always happy to be there at 9am. I look forward to my Mondays and Thursdays as I volunteer with The Bread and Butter Thing. Last year, I learned about the charity through a social group for over-50s that I attend. I was retired from my position as a lunchtime organizer at a school and looking for something to do. I volunteer twice a weekly and find it so rewarding.

11am: I meet up with the other volunteers. Some of us are retirees, while others are younger people who want give back. I’ve made a lot of friends here. I will either go to Withington Library, or Ascension Church, near my home in Hulme. Each place hosts an ‘hub’ every week.

11.30am A refrigerated truck arrives (driven by another volunteer) and everyone helps to unload it. There will be crates full of fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as pantry staples such as bread and pasta, and chilled items like butter and milk. Last week there were grapes and strawberries, carrots and onions, apples, cauliflowers and apples, as well as fresh fish and cheese. It’s incredible to think that this food could have been wasted. After unloading everything, we put it in bags. Each customer receives three bags for only PS8.50. One bag is full of fruits and vegetables, one is chilled goods and the third is staples. The products are usually worth more than PS35.

We encourage people to chat. It’s more than just food – it’s building community.

12pm: We set out plenty of chairs so that our customers can sit down. We will make tea and coffee and ensure that there are plenty biscuits and cakes. We encourage people to chat and stay. It’s more than just food, it’s also about building community.

1pm: Members begin to arrive and I receive a lot hugs. We welcome about 80 people a week, and they are a mix of ages – from teenagers to young mums to older people. We know our regulars by their names and ask them about their lives. We’ll often have a chat with people about what’s inside the bags and what meals they might make. Many people say they eat healthier as a result because there is so much fresh fruit and vegetables in The Bread and Butter Thing.

We will distribute the shopping bags at 1.30pm. We always put one older gentleman in front. He is ill and this may be his only outing for the week. Everyone cares for each other at hubs. Everyone asked me about my absence due to a surgery. It’s the exact same for customers. If vulnerable older people haven’t been in for some time, we know to check on them.

After everyone has finished their shopping at 2pm, we will sit down and have a cup of tea. It’s a warm, relaxed atmosphere. The Bread and Butter Thing organises experts to speak to the community on topics such as mental health and social housing. Last year, they gave away free tablets to help people go online and apply for jobs or make inquiries about benefits. The charity is more than it appears.

I will collect the shopping for those members who are unable to come in person due to illness or young children. My husband will pick up the bags and I in his car on our way home. I feel so good when I help people, and they are always so grateful. But volunteering helps me, too: it feeds my soul.

The Bread and Butter Thing in Numbers


It saves 100 tonnes of food per week from being wasted


1m meals per month = 190,000kg CO2


Collectively, its 45,000+ members save over PS4.8m per year on their household purchases

By 2022, the program will have helped 14,000 families out of crisis .


Main image: Rebecca-Lupton

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