Food banks in Germany

Food banks in Germany

Food banks (Tafel) are a relatively new aspect of German society, with the first being set up in Berlin in 1993 by the Berlin Women’s Initiative (Initiativgruppe Berliner Frauen). Today, more people than ever are reliant on their charity for necessities. Whether you're considering volunteering, donating groceries, or are in need of their help, here's what you need to know about food banks in Germany. 

The history of food banks (Tafel) in Germany

After reading about the New York “City Harvest” food rescue organisation, a doctor called Ursula Kretzer-Moßner decided in 1993 to collect food waste from farmers in Germany, which would be redistributed to homeless people, women's organisations or unemployed people.

Since these beginnings in the early 1990s, food banks have exploded across Germany along with in-work poverty. The introduction of Hartz IV unemployment benefits in the mid-2000s is cited as a major trigger for this explosion. Long-term benefits were replaced with the Hartz IV payment, which was independent of an unemployed person’s previous wage and instead set at a blanket rate.

This change simultaneously reduced the value of unemployment for workers, meaning they were willing to accept lower wages, and pushed more people in Germany, both unemployed and employed, below the poverty line.

Hartz IV became history in 2022 and was replaced with Bürgergeld (citizens’ allowance). While Bürgergeld was introduced as a fairer benefits system with fewer sanctions and more support for recipients to find long-term employment, the payments have already been found to be insufficient to cover recipient's electricity bills.

With those in work in Germany seeing only a minuscule real wage rise in recent years and the pressure of inflation, food banks are busier than ever. Recent layered crises compounding poverty in Germany have led Jochen Brühl, former chair of Tafel Deutschland, the umbrella organisation which runs the country’s food banks, to accuse governments of leaving privately-run organisations to pick up the pieces. “That all people in Germany have enough to eat and drink must be guaranteed by the state, not by volunteers,” Brühl said in a press release in 2022.

How many food banks are there in Germany?

There are currently around 970 food banks in Germany, with the majority being found in Germany’s most populous states, North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria, which each have 173 food banks run by Tafel.

You can find your local food bank via the search function on the Tafel website (in German).

How many people use German food banks?

In 2022, around 2 million people used Germany’s food banks after being unable to afford necessities, just a fraction of the 13 million who live below the poverty line. 60 percent of the food banks across the country saw a 50-percent increase in the number of service users in 2022, in comparison to 2021.

Many different kinds of people use food banks in Germany, including people who have lost their jobs, people in low-paid work, people on long-term benefits who cannot work, refugees, and increasing numbers of pensioners. According to Tafel, one-third of recipients are young people or children.

In order to collect food from the food bank, which is sometimes given away free of charge or for a small amount (like 1,50 for a large box of food), you must prove your need. This can be done by showing that you receive Bürgergeld or similar social security benefits.

What food donations to hand in at food banks in Germany

While there has been an increased demand for food banks in Germany, there has been a drop in donations. This isn’t just because buying essential foods has become increasingly unaffordable for everyone, but also because the model of collecting leftover food from supermarkets has become more complicated in recent years.

Since supermarkets are throwing away less (though still a lot) of unsold food, Tafel organisations have been unable to gather as much food for free, meaning the organisation is more regularly having to spend money on food to sell for cheap or give away for free.

People who would like to donate food to Tafel are recommended to buy baked goods, fruit and vegetables as well as refrigerated and frozen foods. Donations such as toiletries, books and children’s toys are also welcome.

Volunteering at your local food bank in Germany

Around 60.000 volunteers support Tafel across Germany. If you would like to volunteer at your local food bank in Germany there are many different roles to be filled, such as handing out food, coordinating admin, helping with IT, or as part of federal voluntary service (Bundesfreiwilligendienst).

If you would like to volunteer, you can find out where your nearest Tafel is on the organisation's website. Tafel encourages anyone who is interested to contact their nearest branch and ask in which specific way they can be of the best assistance.

Thumb image credit: Matthias Roehe /

Olivia Logan


Olivia Logan

Editor for Germany at IamExpat Media. Olivia first came to Germany in 2013 to work as an Au Pair. Since studying English Literature and German in Scotland, Freiburg and Berlin...

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