Red Cross responds to growing need for food aid

A person in a Red Cross volunteer vest is packing groceries with a smile.
Photo: Maiju Pohjanheimo / Suomen Punainen Risti

In Finland, the growing need for food aid has been felt locally for several years.

In 2020, there were more than 50,000 recipients of food aid from the local volunteer branches of the Finnish Red Cross. In 2021, around 70,000 people received food aid. There are around 1,600 trained food aid volunteers, over 400 of whom are involved in regular activities.

Red Cross food aid has been organised for a long time, particularly in the Oulu region and Lapland in Northern Finland, as well as in Satakunta.  The main suppliers of food are shops and central kitchens that donate food that would otherwise go to waste.

EU food aid was distributed in smaller towns, in particular, through more than 50 volunteer branches until the end of 2021, when the EU food aid programme ended.

Who receives food aid?

We have investigated the impact of food aid through two surveys targeted at food aid recipients.

In 2018, we conducted a food aid survey to gather information about the experiences of the food aid customers of the Red Cross Lapland district in relation to food aid, well-being and health. The same survey was repeated in 2020 for the food aid customers of the Lapland and Satakunta districts.

Food aid is often vital for coping.

The survey received responses from 168 food aid recipients, and the results revealed that the range of people receiving aid is very diverse.

The survey also showed that, although food aid is intended to be temporary, the need for it is often prolonged for years. For the majority of the respondents, food aid is vital for coping. A weakened financial situation makes it harder for people to take care of their health – and food aid makes it easier.

The surveys showed that food aid activities also have a social function. In addition to food, the respondents expressed an interest in other activities, discussion support or people to talk to, as long as these are not compulsory.

Growing need for food aid

In Finland, the growing need for food aid has been felt locally for several years, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic and due to the rising cost of living. The number of food distributions has also increased. For example, we opened a large food distribution point in Tampere in 2020 with the local parish union.

During the pandemic and the Ukraine crisis, our volunteers have also organised various food collections and distributions with other local operators for families with children and lonely older people, among others.

The distribution events often also provide other support services in cooperation with various operators, such as associations, parishes and municipalities.

The food aid is combined with communal meals, breakfasts and opportunities to get debt and health advice, as well as help from Kela with submitting applications, for example. This is about supporting people’s overall well-being and inclusion.

In 2022, we will develop and expand food aid with grants from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (STM) and the Funding Centre for Social Welfare and Health Organisations (STEA). This will allow food aid and other support and inclusion activities to be offered to more and more people.

If you want to volunteer in food distribution or are looking for information about food aid activities in your area, ask for more information from your local Red Cross district office or branch