Food banks in the Netherlands

Food banks in the Netherlands

Food banks (voedselbanken) are a relatively new concept in the Netherlands, with the first food bank only opening in 2002. By the end of December 2005, there were more than 40 food banks open across the country after a sharp increase in the number of people looking for support. By 2006, it was estimated that around 8.000 households relied on the food banks support. In 2008, to help deal with the situation, which was exacerbated by the economic crash, the Stichting Voedselbanken Nederland was formed.

The foundation was reorganised in 2013 to allow all food banks in the country to be a member of a national organisation. This led to the establishment of the Vereniging van Nederlandse Voedselbanken (Association of Dutch Food Banks). The number of food banks in the Netherlands has grown to 171 and there are over 500 collection points helping to provide food for those who need it across the country. They are independently run and are often maintained by individuals and local organisations.

Providing good food for those who need it

In the Netherlands, it is estimated that more than a million people live below the poverty line. The banks work with thousands of volunteers to provide free food to those who are temporarily unable to afford it for themselves or their families. They look to help these people to enjoy good, healthy food as regularly as possible. They help 120.000  people every week.

One of the collective core values of the Netherlands’ food banks is preventing good food from going to waste. They work closely with businesses and supermarkets to collect surplus food or unsold products to prevent them from simply being thrown away. They also accept donations, ensuring they can always provide free food.

Food banks work with professional care advisors and local organisations to help people become independent. They provide relief and support in paying off debts to ensure that no one is perpetually reliant on their support. In fact, in the Netherlands, more than half of those who receive support from food banks are independent within a year.

Receiving support from a food bank

The food banks have specific eligibility criteria to allow them to best help those who are most in need. Essentially, the banks calculate your disposable income - the money that is left over after you pay your essential bills like rent and utilities - and if the value is lower than their “standard” you qualify for support. Your finances are always evaluated in a consultation with specific consent.

The number of food packages supplicants receive is dependent on how big the household is, but a household of two people can expect around 20 to 25 products per week. The banks hand out packages once a week that contain food items such as bread, coffee, fruit and vegetables, and may also contain other products such as cleaning and hygiene supplies. The products change every week and are meant to subsidise a household’s grocery shop - not completely replace it.

The food banks will only provide their support packages for a maximum of three years, after which, if someone is still in need of support, the local municipality will step in to assess the situation.

You can visit the Food Banks Netherlands website for more information on the “standard” value for your specific situation (whether you are single or have a family), as well as a more detailed explanation of the food banks' eligibility criteria. You can also use it to find a food bank in your area.

How can you help support your local food bank?

There are plenty of things you can do to support food banks. First and foremost, you can donate food - simply get in touch with a local food bank to donate. You can also shop from a number of affiliated companies and supermarkets, which often implement schemes where they match your purchases with donations, as well as donate themselves.

Alternatively, you can donate money to food banks; you can send money directly, via a donation agreement, a method that also allows you to deduct the donation from your tax return, or even just simply play the National Postcode Lottery, which has been supporting Dutch food banks since 2013. If you fancy a challenge, you can also help raise money through your own means, whether that be a cake sale, a sponsored run or washing cars. You can find more information on how to donate via all of these methods on the Food Banks Netherlands website.

Another way to help is by becoming a volunteer for the food banks. There are plenty of jobs that need doing, from food packagers to lawyers, drivers and social media experts - there are plenty of roles you can help with at your local food bank.

A pillar of Dutch society

Food banks reflect an important aspect of the Dutch constitution and society, helping those who can’t afford to help themselves. Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, food banks all over the country struggled due to supermarkets being more aware of their surpluses and waste and a drop in the number of donations.

In November 2020, the Dutch government stepped in and announced it would be prepared to spend around 8 million euros from the European Social Fund (ESF+) to support the country’s food banks. They also allowed the Food Banks Netherlands (VBNL) to use an emergency subsidy of 4 million euros, which was originally only to be used once the VBNL’s emergency funds were empty, more widely.

Despite working to maintain the supply of food for those who need it, the food banks are in constant need of support from the public. If you are considering supporting or donating to your local food bank, visit either your local food bank’s website or the Food Banks Netherlands website today to see how you can help.

Thumb via Voedselbanken Nederland.

William Nehra


William Nehra

William studied a masters in Classics at the University of Amsterdam. He is a big fan of Ancient History and football, particularly his beloved Watford FC.

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