From teacher to charity CEO, mum-of-two Emma Spring co-founded charity app BanktheFood during the pandemic. It has since attracted 10,000 users, including a growing list of celeb supporters – but what is it?

Essex resident Emma explains how her charity, BanktheFood, works, ‘Food banks are a lifeline for many, especially at the moment with the cost-of-living crisis, but often they are inundated with one type of item while lacking other essentials. To solve this, BanktheFood's free app 'pings' those who sign up a list of urgently needed items for their local food bank at the most crucial time: when they arrive at the supermarket. Shoppers can then add an item to their shop and donate it at the local donation station.’

Great British Life: BanktheFood app will let you know what items your local food bank needsBanktheFood app will let you know what items your local food bank needs (Image: BanktheFood)

Such a brilliant idea, and it was actually a group of kids that came up with it. ‘The original idea for the app came from a group of primary school children in Southend after they visited Southend Foodbank. The food bank explained to the children how they worked and mentioned that they spent a significant amount of time spreading the word about what they needed. Imagine a thousand tins of baked beans and no loo roll! This is a very real, daily problem for food banks. Generous people were giving, but not always the right items. The children felt an app would be a great solution.’

Emma moved to Essex when she was five years old and went on to become a teacher on Canvey Island before working abroad in several different countries. Upon returning home, Emma felt the need for a change. ‘I saw an opportunity to go completely out of my comfort zone, which reflected my passion for travelling, and I bought into a travel franchise. For three years, I ran my own travel business, working from home and around my family. I gained so many business skills. I was the first of the franchisees to grow their franchise and then sell it. That experience made me realise how transferable my skills were.’

Great British Life: Emma Spring and BanktheFood support food banks across the UKEmma Spring and BanktheFood support food banks across the UK (Image: Emma Spring)

When the opportunity came up to launch the app, Emma felt inspired. ‘It sounded like such a fantastic idea. I could use everything I've learned in my career, particularly from teaching and seeing children struggling with poverty. This was just such an innovative, different idea, using tech for good.’

What is an average day like for Emma and the rest of the team at BanktheFood? ‘Every day is different! I spend most of my time speaking to food banks on the phone and via email. I don't have a lot of contact with people using food banks; it's mostly with managers and volunteers and those people are thankful for what we're doing because it's making their life easier. They have a massive job to do, organising stock, storage, ensuring food is in date, packing, distribution etc.

‘I regularly get emails from people gushing about how much BanktheFood is helping them. Knowing someone in Scotland is thankful for what we're doing or someone in Wales or someone in Cornwall – it makes it all worth it.’

Great British Life: Emma's family have been instrumental in the charityEmma's family have been instrumental in the charity (Image: Emma Spring)

It wasn’t just those Southend schoolchildren who had a big part to play in the launch of the charity. Emma says, ‘It was my son, George, who came up with the name BanktheFood. He was 12 at the time, and when I was explaining to him what I was involved with, he suggested the name. I thought it was brilliant.

‘My daughter, Matilda, helped with the voiceover of our first promotional film. So both of my children have been involved in some way. All my family are invested in the charity, which is a good feeling.’

The charity doesn’t just work with big food banks, it also helps small independent ones that might be operating once a week from a village hall. ‘We have also started working with pet food banks, which are growing in demand, as well as soup kitchens and food pantries.’

The charity can count some well-known names in its list of supporters. ‘While I was on holiday, my children spotted David Walliams in a restaurant,’ Emma says. ‘I hijacked the moment and approached him with a note asking if he would follow us on Twitter – I didn't want to put him in an awkward position by chatting to him whilst he was having precious family time. He subsequently followed us on Twitter! We are also fortunate enough to have Essex-born Sally Gunnell OBE as a supporter, which is fantastic.

‘When you think of food banks, you often think of tinned food, but they have to cater for people who don't have proper cooking equipment and some food banks are trying to ensure that families have access to fresh fruit and veg. They're often set up by someone just wanting to help make a difference. Imagine the world if everyone took that attitude!

‘Please do what you can. Download the free BanktheFood app, find your local food bank and help them get the goods they need.’