Research into food bank use


A University of Otago student wants to shed light on people who use food banks, as she believes they are often blamed and “demonised” for needing help.

PhD candidate Katharine Cresswell Riol is researching how hunger is addressed in New Zealand and wants to “bring to the fore the experience of food bank users”.

She said food bank users’ voices had been silenced “in a lot of ways” and people were blamed when they needed help.

“Poverty is blamed on the individual,” Ms Riol said.

“They have kind of been demonised.”

She hoped by conducting interviews and then sharing food bank users’ experiences the public would better understand the often “painful experiences” food bank users had been through, and raise awareness.

“In order to get an effective solution, you have to look at people who are affected.

“It’s important to focus on the lived experiences of food bank users because their perspectives and knowledge are vital in improving efforts to address food insecurity, and involving them in some form of action allows the political nature of hunger to be understood by discussing it in the public sphere.

“I just really want to do something that will at least have some difference on a practical level.”

Most of the people she had interviewed were middle-aged men and all were “very grateful” for the services, she said.

She hoped to talk to more people to gain a wider perspective and create a sense of community.

“If people want to share then they can.

“People can see that other people are dealing with the same issues.”

She had been in touch with some food banks, which had been “really supportive”.

“They were all really responsive, really positive.”

The Star contacted representatives from two of Dunedin’s social agencies for their perspective.

St Vincent de Paul pastoral co-ordinator Sarah Strang said most of the people who gave to the food bank were “really compassionate” but people who did not have any connection with the food bank might not be as understanding.

Many of the people who used St Vincent de Paul’s food bank had disabilities or were unable to work, she said.

Salvation Army executive ministry leader David McKenzie said he was aware of the research and was looking forward to hearing the results.

People used the Salvation Army food bank services for a variety of reasons and many were first-time users.

There were reasons why users’ voices were not getting heard but many remained quiet about their use, he said.

“We find people [who give] are very understanding.

“I think that the public trusts us and the other food banks, especially the ones that have been around a while . . . to have good processes in place.”

To be part of the research, contact Ms Riol (email:; phone/text: 021 0248-1138).