German food banks struggle to cope with rising demand

The war in Ukraine and the rising cost of living has led to food banks in Germany almost reaching their limit. 

An employee brings bags to a customer at a Tafel Frankfurt distribution point.
An employee brings bags to a customer at a Tafel Frankfurt distribution point. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Gollnow

The number of people going to food banks in Germany is on the rise.

There are over 960 food banks across Germany which rescue surplus food, organise donations from supermarkets and distribute these to people in need.

Demand for the service, which provides free groceries for those in need, began rising last December, but has sharply increased since February this year as the cost-of-living crisis began to hit. 

Since March, demand has risen even further as inflation reached a forty-year high of 7.3 percent and more and more families who have fled the war in Ukraine are also turning to food banks for help.

READ ALSO: German inflation hits post-reunification high at 7.3 percent

The food banks in big cities, in particular, are seeing more demand for their services, according to the Federal Association of Food Banks. In Berlin, for example, they report lots of new customers from Ukraine. 

But the rise in demand is happening all over the country. Wolfram Schreiner, the managing director of the food bank in Kusel in Rhineland-Palatinate – a town with less than 5,000 inhabitants – recently told Taggeschau that more 100 new customers have used their foodbank in the last eight weeks.

Increasing pressure on food banks

The nationwide increase in demand, combined with rising fuel and grocery costs, as well as food shortages, is beginning to impact the food banks themselves, with many reporting that they are stretched to their limit. 

A long-term volunteer at Frankfurt’s biggest food bank told die Zeit that donations from supermarkets have recently fallen by between 60 and 70 percent, as the supermarkets are having to plan more carefully and are having fewer leftovers. 

READ ALSO: The products getting more expensive and harder to find in Germany

As Jochen Brühl, Chairman of the Federal Association of Food Banks, explained: “The sharp rise in fuel and energy prices is causing high additional costs that food banks cannot cope with without additional donations.” 

The Covid pandemic is also causing food banks to struggle, says Brühl: “We have 60,000 volunteers doing incredible work. But many have put their activities on hold because of Covid – simply out of fear of infection.” 

In order to ease the situation, the Federal Association of Food Banks is calling on the German government to provide a €100 monthly subsidy for those claiming housing benefits and receiving the basic old-age pension.

READ ALSO: German Bundesrat votes on heating subsidy for low-income households

They are also appealing for financial donations as well as food, as increased energy and fuel costs have already forced some food banks to suspend or limit their services.

The long term goal, however, must be to reduce the demand for food banks, said Jochen Brühl: “Feeding people is the task of the state. We from the food banks are only a support – we are not a lifetime assistance. Our concern is to support people in need in the short term”.


Food bank = (die) Tafel

demand = (die) Nachfrage

donation = (die) Spende

steigen = to increase

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Is Germany becoming a ‘low wage’ country?

More and more people are having to take on multiple jobs to get by in Germany, as many salaries are too low to keep up with living costs.

Is Germany becoming a 'low wage' country?

More than 3.5 million people in Germany have more than one job – a figure which has more than doubled in the past 20 years. The problem is being exacerbated by high inflation which, in 2022, reached an average of 7.9 percent – the highest level since German reunification.

According to Philipp Schumann, the Secretary-General of the service trade union Verdi Germany is becoming a “low-wage country”.

He told Taggeschau: “With a minimum wage of €12, working full-time for 42 hours a week earns you slightly less than €2,200. That’s only about 60 percent of the average income in Germany and is not enough to make a living.”

READ ALSO: ‘Real’ wages fell at record speed in Germany last year

He also said that it may be that the German job market could soon end up resembling that of the US, with more and more people taking on multiple jobs to get by financially.

He said that only when those affected earn about 80 percent of the average income would they no longer need two or more jobs. But, for that to happen, the minimum wage would need to rise to around €17 to €18 per hour.

Enough work, but not enough money

When the minimum wage was increased to €12 per hour on October 1st, 2022, many hoped for an improvement in their standard of living. But rising inflation dashed those hopes.

According to the most recent “poverty report” by the German Parity Welfare Association from 2022, 16.9 percent of the population in Germany was affected by poverty, and the trend is rising, as sharply increasing prices in recent months are making more and more workers poor.

READ ALSO: Germany slips into recession with negative first quarter

The phenomenon of multiple employment is also affecting people from all educational backgrounds and is no longer limited to low-wage sector workers.

The report by Tagesschau includes the example of Olaf Karg, who studied social law and worked as a mortgage broker until the end of last year. However, due to an increase in interest rates, his business collapsed, and since then, he has been working multiple jobs.

He works as a sound assistant at conferences, a DJ, and an emergency medical technician. “In the worst months, I was missing high four-digit sums of euros. With just one job, I would be €1,000 short and would reach my financial limits,” the 53-year-old said about his situation.