Food Insecurity and the COVID Pandemic: Uneven Impacts for Food Bank Systems in Europe

Document Type


Publication Date



121938223 (Orcid)


Over the past few decades, large food banks that collect, warehouse, and redistribute food have become institutionalized across Europe. Although food banks gained increased visibility as important food relief mechanisms during the covid pandemic in 2020 and 2021, the crisis also highlighted their structural weaknesses and the fragility of the charity-based emergency food system. In particular, many European food banks faced higher costs, lower food stocks, uneven food donations, and lower numbers of volunteers and personnel as demand for food relief increased sharply. Also, many food banks lacked personal health and safety equipment for front-line staff and volunteers, many of whom were vulnerable or aged, thus forcing the closure of some charities due to health concerns. Yet, the impact of the pandemic was uneven across the continent as the covid pandemic strengthened some food banks while others were weakened. To explore these dynamics in detail, this paper utilizes in-depth interviews and surveys of key food bank operators in the Netherlands, Norway, and Greece to analyze how and why European food bank systems fared so differently from the pandemic. In short, the findings in this paper reveal how the Norwegian food bank system leveraged its position to increase fundraising and visibility, while the Netherlands food bank system suffered from long-term structural weaknesses, and the Greek food bank system was further embroiled in government tensions that threatened its existence. The preexisting structure of food bank systems, broader political economy, and historical context significantly impacted how food relief networks fared during the pandemic.



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