November 10, 2022

More Than Food: Surplus Food Distribution During the Covid-19 Pandemic

In July 2021, FoodCloud commissioned research to understand more fully how surplus food distribution (SFD) works on the ground within local communities. The research provides an important insight into how Surplus Food Distribution (SFD) has the potential to have a transformative impact within our communities. 

By inspiring, empowering and enabling a vibrant national network of food businesses, volunteers and community and voluntary organisations [CVOs] to engage in SFD, we can actively reduce food waste, raise awareness of the value of food and promote social inclusion in local communities across the Island of Ireland. 

At the same time, the research shows how the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the important role that organisations like FoodCloud and our partners take on in responding to a crisis. While SFD is not a solution to food poverty, isolation or social exclusion, it has the potential to help maintain an element of resilience within communities in times of economic and social shocks. The current cost of living crisis makes this as important now as ever.

The research findings show the enormous potential of SFD to support the community work of community organisations by enabling greater community connection.  As an example, Ellen* from a Family Resource Centre, provided an example of the power of food to create pathways for community members to access greater emotional and practical support.

“The family I told you about with the four children, and the illness and whatnot. I met them, you know, I was put in contact with them because of the food parcels … now you know we have a long-standing relationship whereby it’s about making connections. I don’t just go and drop off the food at the door, I’m just talking about this family, for example ... It’s about more than just the food, it’s about emotional connection as well, and knowing that there is support out there and it’s non-judgmental. And there’s somebody who you can talk to and ask about anything you want and find out what other services that are available should you need them you know.” 

At the same time, the report highlights the importance of that food to provide support, social connection and a sense of wellbeing to community members like Leonard*, who receives food from a food pantry in his local Family Resource Centre: 

“I think it’s very helpful ... on a financial aspect you know, a lot of people are having difficult times. And as I said, you know from month to month we don’t know how things will be. Because we don’t have a stable income, so that makes a huge difference for our family anyway.”

The study also points to the various challenges faced by CVOs and their community members when running an SFD Project or in receiving food support. Alongside the important benefits that SFD provides, the study has highlighted the high costs, resource deficits and other challenges faced by CVOs in developing and maintaining SFD programmes in their local communities. The financial and resource costs involved in managing volunteers, food safety, transport/fuel, and managing donations of unsuitable foods are some of the challenges faced by CVOs undertaking SFD projects.

By ‘opening the box’ of what happens to surplus food once it enters the ‘second food chain’, this research shows that the work of SFD often involves much more than the receipt and distribution of food, this research has shown that successful SFD is ultimately about relationships, connection and community. It also shows that while we know that local SFD food projects will not ‘fix’ a broken global food system or solve food poverty, they do provide examples of responsive, community-led and sustainable innovations which can become the basis for grass-roots action in times of crisis and beyond. 

*Pseudonyms were used for all Key Informants who are quoted in this study

Read the Abridged Report Here

Read the Full Report Here

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