How to donate to a food bank... at the push of a button

Bankuet is a ground-breaking new service enabling people to donate to food banks around the country using their mobile phones

Part of the South London Warehouse foodbank in Streatham Hill receiving delivery from Bankuet during the Pandemic
Part of the South London Warehouse foodbank in Streatham Hill receiving a delivery from Bankuet Credit: Bankuet

It was pre-pandemic, in 2018, that Robin Ferris had his brainwave: an online food bank donation platform. He had recently set up a food collection point to help a nearby food bank with a friend but the process of collecting, sorting and delivering the food was very time-consuming.

I suddenly wondered “Why isn’t there an online food platform for donating food?” he says. 

And so the idea for Bankuet was born,  described by Ferris as a nationwide kitty for food banks; the first of its kind - and needed now more than ever. 

Founded last July, Bankuet has enabled thousands to donate money to food banks around the country at the push of a button. By logging onto the Bankuet app or website, users can either donate (as a one-off payment or a monthly subscription) to a local food bank or make a general donation, which is used to top up the funds of food banks most in need. 

As there is no nationwide food bank database in the UK, food banks are asked to apply via the website. They can then request the items most in need, which Ferris and his team buy in bulk from retailers and wholesalers. They are delivered via an existing infrastructure of retail partners such as Sainsbury’s and Morrisons. 

Initially, Ferris funded the project himself but, in 2019, a Social Impact Accelerator programme sped things up. And, by the time they pilotted in July 2019, Ferris - who worked in technology for 20 years before working for ten years in the music industry - was working full-time on Bankuet.

Ferris describes Bankuet as a ‘business for good’, meaning that 95 per cent of every donation goes to food banks, and five per cent is used to support running costs, including a small salary for Ferris. The company has recently been awarded Gift Aid status, too, meaning it can claim back money from each donation to go towards the food banks.

The knock-on effect of the company on donations has been unprecedented. 

When Erin Clark helped to set up Bethnal Green food bank in January, she predicted that uptake would be slow. Within two months of opening she went from helping 15 people every fortnight to 200 people per week, as lockdown rendered tens of thousands of people jobless, and unable to afford even basic provisions. She describes Bankuet, which sometimes provides half of their weekly donations, as a ‘lifeline’. 

In fact, Bankuet’s launch could not be more timely: figures from the Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest food bank network, show that April was the busiest month on record for food banks, with 89 per cent more food parcels given out compared to the same period last year. They project that by Christmas, there could be a 61 per cent increase in food bank usage if the Government withdraws its coronavirus economic support schemes at the end of October, as planned. 

Robin Ferris, CEO of Bankuet Credit: Bankuet

Many food banks say they couldn’t have met demand had it not been for Bankuet, the technology of which is familiar to users of companies like Uber and Deliveroo, and which hugely simplifies the process of donating.  

It works out better for the food banks, too. In what Ferris calls ‘The Maximiser Effect’, the pooling of donations means that Bankuet can buy in bulk from retailers, stretching money further. And with banks able to request specific items it is, essentially, zero waste as it helps them to manage stocks better. 

Jackie Beeley, manager of Gateshead Food Bank was contacted by Ferris at the start of the year, and has been using the app alongside their usual donation routes ever since. “We’ve seen a huge increase in donations since we started using Bankuet, especially since a lot of our collection points had to close during lockdown.”

With part of the population shielding and more of us doing our weekly shop online, less food is making its way from supermarket donation points to food banks. The closing of community centres, schools and churches has also had a huge impact on the way food banks receive donations. At the height of lockdown, Bankuet provided a valuable safety net. 

Enabling food banks to choose which items they receive has also made it much easier for donors to be more helpful: “I used to donate to food banks sporadically, usually when I saw a sign in the shop to remind me,” admits Stephanie Sercombe, a mother of two from London who has been using Bankuet since the start of the year. “When I did donate, I often gave items that I thought would be nice (hot chocolate, Easter eggs), but in reality, they’re not what food banks need. Bankuet takes the worry of what to buy out of the equation.” 

Last year Stephanie organised her school’s Christmas fundraiser through Bankuet. “It worked brilliantly, because in the run-up to Christmas there are so many different things to think about - now, this could be done with a few clicks of a button.” Setting up a campaign is made effortless by Bankuet’s website; a particularly relevant feature given the number of offices now working remotely. 

“I’ve been on the steepest learning curve of my life,” laughs Ferris, who had to act quickly to scale up the idea from the 10 food banks subscribed to his service last year. “Last year we shipped 15,000 items and fed 500 people. During the first two months of lockdown, we had onboarded 100 food banks around the country and shipped 133,000 items, with the help of retailers like Morrisons and Sainsbury’s.” 

And Ferris is under no illusion about the task ahead. “It’s been overwhelming seeing how incredibly kind everyone has been in a difficult time for all. But we need people to continue being generous. At the height of lockdown, over three million went hungry, and it’s going to get worse. The Trussell Trust predicts that as we go into Christmas, six food parcels will be given out every minute - that’s one every 10 seconds. We really need to step up to the challenge.” 

To make a donation, volunteer or join as a food bank, visit bankuet.co.uk