The Amsterdam Foodbank redistributes produce fit for consumption but not for sale to those in need rather than have it rejected into landfill. With investment in cold storage, the charity can accept more fresh donations
Despite the Netherland’s impressive wealth, like many countries, it has many pockets of poverty where money for food is minimal. This is where a Foodbank can mean the difference at mealtimes.
In the list of richest European countries, the Netherlands is ranked fifth, with a gross domestic product (GDP) of some 725 billion Euros. For one of Europe’s smaller countries, that’s an impressive set of statistics.
Yet, in a warehouse on the Archangelkade industrial estate in the east of Amsterdam there is evidence that not all Dutch citizens are enjoying the benefits of such wealth. In this depot volunteers sort through donations for the Amsterdam Foodbank, or Voedsel Banken, which is located here.
The food bank has around 1,300 clients, mainly women raising children on their own following divorce or relationship breakdowns, dealing with rent and utility costs that are rising ahead of wages or benefits.
Single men with addiction issues are also end users, although, as the charity’s fundraiser Bienja Jense says, they also help working families facing financial hardship after suffering bad luck, a job loss, illness or a death that has had an impact on their budgets.
As Jense explains, before the 2008 financial crisis hit, Amsterdam like so many cities, was riding a wave of easy credit. When the recession took hold, many people that had signed up for expensive mortgages or credit cards found their jobs were not so secure, and having lost them, were trapped paying back huge interest rates.
“They have jobs, but after paying back everything they owe, it leaves very little for spending on food,” she says.
“This is where we help. The food bank has many purposes: to fight food waste because there is so much of it in Amsterdam, throughout the supply chain good food is being lost, but it can be brought here for people who really need it.
“We also have many volunteers, this work gives them a purpose, but also a way to gain experience for a paid job.”
The food bank was established around 2006, but in recent years Jense says, it has invested in more logistics such as cool storage and transport in order to accept more donations of fresh produce.
“We are happy with all food donations, but we do try to [appeal] for healthy produce,” she says.
“After Christmas and Easter we are given so much chocolate and cookies. Of course, we are happy with everything, but we are very happy when we receive healthy food. We are always short of long shelf-life products such as pasta and rice.
“For large donations we can send a truck, but for smaller ones we need people to deliver here. It is not just transport costs, but sometimes we don’t have the volunteers to go collecting.”
Investing in logistics
All donations are stored at the depot in Archangelkade, from here it is sorted into packages for transporting to the 14 local distribution points across the city.
Jense says the charity prides itself on its professionalism, and how it has built significant relationships with producers and supermarkets, including Albert Heijn.
However, even with these good relationships in place, it often finds itself low on food supplies, especially healthy produce. In the run-up to Christmas it can be a particularly lean time for donations, which is why any produce left from exhibitors’ displays following The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference will be welcomed.
Jense says that hopefully, any new contacts made at the show will blossom into longer term partnerships, helping to get food that would otherwise go to waste out to families that are struggling to fill their cupboards.