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Food aid for Finland’s needy takes off

Finland’s food safety authority Evira recently loosened its criteria for charitable organisations distributing food aid, generating a needed spike in the availability of such services throughout the country. In the western coastal city of Vaasa, for example, four separate distribution points give out a total of 6,000 kilos of surplus food donated by shops each month.  

Bread lines in Finland are growing longer. Image: Jussi Laine / Yle

Vaasa Food Aid is a charitable organisation that began its operations in March. When it started out, the donated food was distributed from one single location, but since then activity has expanded quickly to four distribution points, with the search for a fifth suitable spot underway.

The number of shops that are donated surplus goods is now at fifteen in Vaasa, and well over a hundred volunteers are on board.

“Our operations have really taken flight,” says the organisation’s vice president and founder Mauri Öljymäki.

Öljymäki says that organisations like his are popping up in every corner of Finland, so much so that the charities are considering synthesizing their efforts under a nationwide umbrella organisation. 

Good organisation skills are a must

A charitable organisation which distributes highly perishable foodstuffs as food aid on a regular basis in Finland must notify its own municipal branch of the food control authority about the operation and the premises used before starting operation.

Organisations distributing food aid must also prepare an in-house control plan for their operations.

Mauri Öljymäki says the distribution of food aid requires a lot of volunteer effort and strict organisation skills.

“We distribute 6,000 kilos of food on a monthly basis, providing services for 1,200 people in need. It seems the need for food aid is growing all the time,” he says.

In 2013 Evira published a list of requirements for food aid distribution that was clearly less stringent than the previous practice in Finland. This lowered the threshold for organisations to provide food assistance to the needy and diversified operations.

Both donating shops and volunteer organisations now have clear game rules when it comes to liability and legality issues, making it easier to provide the badly-needed service.

Evira’s Chief Inspector Pirjo Korpela says the requirements clearly came in useful, encouraging increased activity.

“Evira’s objective is to facilitate the distribution of food. It makes no sense that good food ends up in the rubbish bin.” 

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