History of Food Banks in Poland

na zdjęciu: John van Hengel (rozmawia przez telefon) ze swoim współpracownikiem -Kenny Ramsey.

Pictured: John van Hengel (talking on the phone) with his colleague -Kenny Ramsey.

The first Food Banks in Poland were established in the 1990s, drawing inspiration from organizations founded in France. Following the success of the initial Polish Food Banks, other activists were inspired by this type of activity and decided to establish additional Food Banks in their localities across Poland. As a result, the Federation of Polish Food Banks was established in 1997, initially consisting of four organizations. Today, the Federation comprises a network of 31 Food Banks operating throughout Poland, providing assistance to approximately 1.5 million people annually and conducting numerous projects in the field of food aid and education. Between 2018 and 2022 alone, Food Banks affiliated with the Federation collectively donated 135,560 tons of food to people in need. Food Banks are also part of the European Federation of Food Banks (FEBA), which includes food banks from 30 European countries.

Key moments in the over 20-year history of Food Banks include taking on the role of initiator in 2004 in the framework of the European Food Aid Programme (PEAD), which was replaced by the European Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD) in 2014. The program is still ongoing, distributing food to people in difficult life situations.

Food Banks have also been involved in crucial legislative processes aimed at reducing food waste in Poland. Thanks to the participation of the Federation of Polish Food Banks, the obligation to pay VAT on food donations from producers was abolished in 2009. Four years later, this tax was also lifted for distributors. This was a significant achievement for Food Banks in terms of cooperation and building partnerships.

Another milestone in the fight against food waste was the Act on Combating Food Waste, which came into force in 2019. Food Banks actively engaged in the consultation process for the law and advocated for its adoption. They also organized a petition to the Parliamentary Committee on Economy and Development, signed by over 23,000 people. According to the provisions of the Act, food sellers are obliged to donate unsold food to non-governmental organizations. This applies only to products still suitable for consumption, i.e., not past their expiration date. Stores that do not donate food to organizations but continue to dispose of it should pay a fee to the organization with which they have signed an agreement. This fee amounts to 10 groszy per 1 kilogram of wasted food. Importantly, the law also provides for 2-week educational campaigns on food waste, which sellers should conduct annually with their partner organizations in their retail units. This law can also have an impact on changing consumer awareness.

Consumer education is particularly important, as evidenced by the results of the Rationalization and Reduction of Food Waste Program (PROM) – a groundbreaking research project led by Food Banks. According to the analysis conducted during the PROM project, nearly 5 million tons of food are discarded in Poland annually, of which consumers and households generate as much as 3 million tons. The study determined that agricultural production accounts for approximately 15% of food waste. Losses in processing are at a similar level (around 15%). Meanwhile, less than 1% is wasted during transportation and storage. In trade, losses are estimated at around 7%, and in gastronomy, it is slightly over 1%

From 2020 to 2023, Food Banks were one of the non-governmental organizations grappling with new and unforeseen crises. The first of these was the coronavirus pandemic, which significantly affected the way aid was acquired and provided, and the second was the outbreak of war in Ukraine. As Food Banks, we made every effort to respond to the new demand and provide support to additional individuals in need. In the case of the war in Ukraine, Food Banks collectively donated nearly 6,300 tons of food worth over £70 million, both in Poland and Ukraine. In our country, almost 200 workshops were organized for nearly 2,000 people to strengthen Polish-Ukrainian ties. Local Food Banks activated refugees through volunteering, helped them find housing and employment. In total, Food Bank assistance reached approximately 300,000 people.

Another important area of Food Bank activity is organizing food drives and promoting solidarity and volunteerism associated with them. Traditionally, two food drives are held in stationary stores every year: Easter and Christmas, involving tens of thousands of people. Thanks to their involvement and work, hundreds of tons of food reach those in need.