Free vending machine dispenses foods, toiletries to those in need

The machines will be available around the clock and can dispense food, clothing, toiletries and other necessities.
by Tracy Saelinger / / Source: TODAY

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For the homeless, accessing food can be a big challenge: shelters often have odd hours and food pantries may run low on supplies. But an innovative new vending machine that dispenses food and other necessities free of charge may soon revolutionize the way the hungry get fed.

The machines will hit U.S. cities next year, but a British charity, Action Hunger, is installing the first ones in the U.K. this week.

Here's how it works: Local homeless organizations will identify those most in need of assistance, and distribute chip-enhanced cards that can be swiped at the vending machines to select up to three food, clothing or toiletry items per day.

Vending machine
An innovative new vending machine from the organization Action Hunger will dispense food and other necessities to the homeless.Action Hunger

Items in the machines may include water, fresh fruit, energy bars and sandwiches, as well as socks, sanitary towels, antibacterial lotion, toothbrush and toothpaste combo packs, books, and more.

A large amount of the items will come from organizations that "rescue" perishable items to reduce food waste, Action Hunger told TODAY Food in a statement.

New York City is slated to be the first U.S. location to get machines installed in February 2018, followed by San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle. More machines will be installed in London next year, too, as well as "many more cities to follow," the organization said.

Since they don't need to be staffed, the machines will be accessible around the clock, seven days a week.

Vending machine
Using a plastic card distributed by local shelters, the most in-need of candidates will be able to access three items per day.Action Hunger

The first of their kind, the machines came about after Action Hunger founder Huzaifah Khaled was struck by the number of rising homeless in the U.K. and wanted to find a better way to ensure access to food and necessities "without being limited to to the fairly disparate opening hours of the various shelters and charities."

The Friary, a day shelter in Nottingham, England, which recently issued a Community Crisis Appeal campaign, is receiving the first machine and will prioritize giving cards those who sleep on the streets.

"Our hope is that the idea takes root in cities all over the world, and the homeless have a lifeline to rely on," Action Hunger added in a statement, "while government policies work towards ending homelessness for once and for all."

It might be a few months until these machines come to the U.S. but there are still plenty of ways to give back to your local community, especially on Giving Tuesday. Here are some that help the hungry and homeless:

Action Hunger

The trustees and staff behind the vending machine effort don't receive a salary, so they greatly appreciate donations and corporate support (N&W, a tech company, donated the first machines).

Rescuing Leftover Cuisine

A U.S. partner of Action Hunger, this organization collects unused perishable foods and will be helping supply the vending machines. Volunteer your time — many of the time slots are only 30 minutes! — or donate money.

Action Against Hunger

Not to be confused with Action Hunger, Action Against Hunger is a global humanitarian organization focusing its efforts in the coming year on Sudan, where 6 million people are currently facing food insecurity, with the possibility of famine in 2018. All donations will be matched for a limited time Tuesday, Nov. 28.

Feeding America

Every dollar you donate to Feeding America equals 10 to 20 meals that the organization is able to provide to those in need.

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