The strong bond between Food Aid and Social Inclusion: a dialogue with European institutions and concrete practices across Europe

On the 18 November 2019, the European Food Banks Federation organized the “Annual Forum on Food Aid and Social Inclusion. Dialogue between European Institutions and concrete practices across Europe”. The conference was hosted by MEP Brando Benifei at the European Parliament in Brussels.

The Annual Forum opened with a welcome and introduction by Brando Benifei who underlined the importance of this period of negotiations in relation to the budget destined to the ESF+ and specifically for food and material assistance. He underlined that “in the next budget provisions, it is necessary a greater commitment from EU Member States in the fight against social inequalities, allocating more resources to the most deprived people, with a specific focus on children”.

Following the introduction by the hosting MEP, Loris Di Pietrantonio from DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (European Commission) updated the participants on the current state of art on the negotiations underlying the importance of Food Banks daily-activities. The Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) gives the possibility to reach 30 million people per year in Europe, most of them are supported by charities in the network of Food Banks. Moreover, Di Pietrantonio stressed the importance to support children and people in absolute poverty who are almost the 50% of FEAD beneficiaries. European institutions are currently in the middle of discussion for the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027, including the allocation for food and material assistance. Therefore, in the following months it will be important to advocate also at national level in order to ensure the best possible results of the negotiations.

Angela Frigo, Secretary General of FEBA, gave an overview on impacts and activities of the organization highlighting the principal goal of the network of Food Banks: reduce hunger and malnutrition by redistributing surplus food to the most deprived in Europe. In 2018, FEBA membership redistributed 781,000 tons of food, the equivalent of 4.3 million daily meals, through 45,700 charities reaching 9.3 million deprived people in Europe. FEBA has a variety of food sources, among which 21% comes from FEAD. In fact, for the last 4 years, food from FEAD has been a concrete sign of European solidarity to meet the basic needs of the most vulnerable citizens. In 2018, 10 countries of FEBA membership benefited from the FEAD. More than 160,000 tons of FEAD food were redistributed through almost 15,000 charitable organizations reaching more than 5 million deprived people. It is in the public eye the impact of this European fund. During the conference, Angela Frigo presented the outcomes of a survey conducted by FEBA with 9 of the Food Banks which are benefiting from the FEAD. For the majority of them, the consequence of the absence of the FEAD would mean a reduction from 25% to 50% of their daily activity. In fact, they replied unanimously that the FEAD facilitates to address the needs of charitable organisations, involving them and the final beneficiaries in paths towards social inclusion. Consequently, for the majority of them, FEAD brings organisations and final beneficiaries closer to the European Union.

The discussion panel continued with an intervention on the FEAD implementation in Italy by Caritas Italiana. It was underlined the impact of FEAD products on the most deprived in Italy with more than 2.6 million end beneficiaries. In Italy the absolute poverty does not decrease almost 5 million people cannot afford a decent life. Since the great impact of FEAD, it is important to support the local organisations with the complex administrative aspects of managing this fund and concentrate efforts in reinforcing the skills of Partner Organizations and training volunteers.

Another presentation focused on the FEAD Operational Programme in Spain for the period 2014-2020. Since 2014, Spanish Red Cross has had the possibility to support a significant number of disadvantaged people allowing the Red Cross to offer information to public administrations and other actors involved, encouraging the work of volunteers and expanding the network. FESBAL and Spanish Red Cross had the chance to analyse beneficiaries’ situations and operativity of the FEAD programme in Spain (“FEAD impact Assessment in Spain – the perception of beneficiaries, organisations, staff and volunteers” – read the full report). On one hand, FEAD meets the objectives of contributing to the alleviation of extreme forms of poverty, and is a concrete support for end beneficiaries; on the other hand, most of beneficiaries benefit of the programme from 3 to 5 years: this is a sign of the need for FEAD to improve the logic of intervention helping people to overcome situations of vulnerability with appropriate measures.

As regards the experience from Estonia, FEAD food is redistributed to people who receive a social benefit or benefits from the government through Food Banks of the Estonian Food Bank network. The experience of Estonia testifies how it is much more effective to invest money in the redistribution of food to people in need instead of giving the same amount of money to the beneficiaries; in fact, the Ministry of Social Affairs decided that the 10% of FEAD budget should be used for costs of collection, transport and distribution of donated food (Reg. (EU) No 223/2014, Article 26(2)(d)).

In Ireland, the FEAD is directly managed by FoodCloud. After a pilot project in 2016 (with 10 charities and 13,000 end beneficiaries), FoodCloud has been the responsible for FEAD from 2016 to 2017 and for the period 2018-2020 (data from 2018: 155 charities and 152,000 individuals supported). There is a structured process for charities to collect FEAD food from FoodCloud using their own transport on an agreed timetable. Charities in fact, place annual order to FoodCloud with the option to change is quarterly. The strengths of the Irish way of dealing with FEAD is a successful collaboration between Irish government, charities and private sector.

In conclusion, this meeting was the occasion to have a general overview on the impact of FEAD, especially as regards food aid, and stress the importance of this fund for fostering the social inclusion of the most deprived people in Europe.

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Commission. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.