Advancing Food Banks

Ukrainian Food Banks Federation Continues Serving Families Affected By Conflict

Food banks are always an important part of the communities they serve — but it’s never more evident than during and after a crisis.

The Ukrainian Food Banks Federation (UFBF) is an exemplar of how food banks operate during a crisis, ensuring families know where their next meal is coming from. In actuality, the food bank was born in crisis, a necessary reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Shortly after the conflict started, I had the privilege of serving on a committee, formed by FEBA’s Board Chair, to assess the possibility of establishing a food banking system in the country, and then designing its structure and initial program base. After less than eight months, in October of last year, UFBF was formed, with unprecedented financial support from the European Food Banks Federation’s (FEBA) #AllTogether4Ukraine Campaign.

It’s incredible how rapidly and effectively the food bank has come together. In just under a year, UFBF has delivered 10.7 million meals to almost 325,000 people in 21 of the 23 oblasts, or states, in Ukraine — including communities on the front lines of the conflict. But with an estimated 11 million people experiencing food insecurity in the country, UFBF is hoping to continue its rapid growth.

Earlier this month, I joined a FEBA delegation to Ukraine to support UFBF in creating partnerships and bolstering funding and other resources to help those facing hunger. Witnessing the impact of the war on communities in Ukraine was utterly heart-rending, but I’m now even more thankful for UFBF and even more hopeful about the organization’s future.

Partnerships are key to a food bank’s long-term success, and during our trip, I’m happy to report that several groups in Ukraine committed to working with UFBF. One such entity is Ukraine’s Ombudsman Office, which is overseeing efforts to bring back children who were taken to Russia after the start of the war. The office provides medical and legal support, but the children also need food, which is where UFBF comes in.

Dmytro Shkrabatovskyi, board chair of the Ukrainian Food Banks Federation; Oleksandr Usyk, a world championship Ukrainian boxer; Jacques Vandenschrik, GFN Board member and president of European Food Banks Federation; and Christopher Rebstock, GFN’s Canada, Europe, and South Asia program director, packed food kits for Irpin, Bucha, and surrounding communities. (Photo: Ukrainian Food Banks Federation)

Our delegation also met with a representative of Ukraine’s Ministry of Agriculture. After our meeting, our representative was so moved by the dedication and impact of UFBF that he went on an impromptu food bank visit only hours later, and committed to working with UFBF to promote their work and help to increase their reach.

During part of the time I was in Ukraine, we were joined by Ukrainian boxer Oleksandr Usyk, who helped to pack food kits and has agreed to continue partnering with UFBF through his foundation and as a spokesperson for the power of food banking.

Numerous other meetings with government officials, corporate executives, religious leaders, a major university, and NGOs brought similar responses — everyone clearly saw the immense value added by the food banking system and the potential for significantly expanded impact with increased support of UFBF.

Additionally, UFBF heard from community agencies that expressed interest in morphing into dedicated local food banks in different areas around the country.

During visits to several villages north of Kyiv and to front line communities in the Kherson and Kharkiv regions — communities that had been taken by Russia and then liberated by Ukrainian forces —we saw the destruction wrought and met hundreds of people who received food from UFBF. Without exception, we were told that these food distributions represented essential, life-saving support.

Staff and volunteers from UFBF, FEBA, and GFN visited three villages of Kyiv region — Gorenka, Moshchun, and Mostishche — to deliver essential supplies and speak with community members. (Photo: Ukrainian Food Banks Federation)

With more funding, UFBF can continue to build operational and organizational infrastructure so that the food bank will remain viable and effective long after the war. Currently, UFBF is distributing 9,000 food kits every month, and each kit provides a family with two weeks of food. But UFBF already has the infrastructure in place to distribute at least four times that many, given more support.

The invitation to join this delegation to Ukraine was one of the biggest honors in my career, and what I saw there was a testament to the strength of character and conviction of the individuals who comprise UFBF and many others across the country. Without a doubt, food banks are critical to the heart of food security efforts in Ukraine.

Wherever communities are experiencing food insecurity—due to conflict, disasters, high cost-of-living, or other crises, food banks are critical to the response. If you would like to learn more about GFN support of food banks in emergency situations or donate to the cause, please visit our Emergency Response Fund page.

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