Homelessness charity Action Hunger has recently launched in Nottingham, UK, the first free vending machine for homeless people. The machine provides a range of products that include sandwiches, underwear, toiletries and even the occasional book. Those in need are given a key card and three items a day.
Homelessness is a desolating issue that pervades every city in every country. There are many charities and shelters that work tirelessly towards helping those whose daily lives are most mired in hardship — though many have limited operating hours, which often results in services being unavailable during the evening and night, and they can also be very expensive to run, with costs running into the hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Action Hunger is committed to alleviating poverty and hardship amongst the homeless by installing vending machines that provide free food and clothing in key locations of cities across the United Kingdom — and beyond.
The immediate benefit of Action Hunger vending machines is that they satiate hunger and provide nourishment to the most vulnerable members of society. They permit access to food and clothing free of charge at any hour — without requiring anyone to be left without aid outside the operating hours of the various charities and shelters that are available.
These machines are also very inexpensive and economical to run, as they eliminate the attendant costs of running a physical premises, and the automated nature of the machines supplant the need for many staff — a bank of volunteers manage the day-to-day operation. Furthermore, at a time when government cuts in funding for local councils has decimated lots of the resources available, and had debilitating effects on those services that do remain, these machines serve as a novel solution.
An important distinction is that Action Hunger is not seeking to supplant the incredible efforts of existing charities for the homeless that exist — it is seeking to work in concert with them. While other organisations can offer empathy and human contact and counselling, all of which are key to breaking the cycle of homelessness, Action Hunger solely provides unmanned vending machines. The aim is to work alongside them, as a means for the homeless to access food and clothing 24/7 and, in doing so, ensuring that help is always available.
The machines dispense water, fresh fruit, energy bars, crisps, chocolate, and sandwiches, as well as socks, sanitary towels, antibacterial lotion, toothbrush and toothpaste combination packs, and books. As a considerable amount of the produce that is vended comes from food redistribution organisations, this solution simultaneously addresses two major social and environmental issues — homelessness and food waste.
How does it work?
1. Food is received from supermarkets, charities, and local shops with excess produce. Additional items such as socks and sanitary towels are also purchased by the charity.
2. Volunteers distribute the food and items across the network of vending machines on a daily basis.
3. Those in need access the machines using a special key card.
The key cards are programmed to permit up to three items being vended per day. The preceding measure is designed to prevent singular dependency on the machines — the low-cost solution is intended to complement other services that are available.
Use of the machines is exclusively permitted to those in need, and the items can only be vended with the use of these special key cards, which Action Hunger’s partner organisations in each locality are responsible for disseminating. In order to continue using the key cards, users must check-in weekly at those partner organisations, as continued engagement with professionals and local support services is instrumental to breaking the cycle of homelessness.
At the most elementary level, Action Hunger’s machines provide access for the most vulnerable in society to satiate the most basic of needs — that of sustenance.