A pilot scheme that gave people in need a prepaid card to buy food will be extended across the country this autumn after a successful trial period in the spring.
In April, almost 9,000 people in Harju and Rapla counties were given a card allowing them to purchase food in the supermarket chain Rimi.
€30 per person was added to the cards quarterly and they could not be used to buy alcohol or tobacco products.
The idea proved popular and there was also interest from other parts of the country.
Previsouly, the recipients were given food parcels by the foodbank Toidupank.
"There have been a lot of calls, especially from Ida-Viru County, that we would also like to switch to food cards, that we are looking forward to it, that we don't want any more tinned food and dry food in the parcels, that we would like to go to the shops ourselves," said Tea Varrak, the Ministry of Social Affairs' head of social sector continuity.
Varrak said the pilot project was such a success that the scheme will come into effect across the country in October.
She said it gives people the opportunity to decide for themselves what they want to eat. Additionally, it is better for the environment.
"There is no need to move goods around, no need to increase warehouse space, no need for so many volunteers, and no need for so many administrative overheads," the official said.
As well as increasing recipients' choices, another aim is to reduce the foodbank's workload. Liisa Rebane-Mäe, Toidupank's communications manager, said the goal was met.
"We have more time left over for our so-called other core activities, which is saving food — and finding enough food to distribute to those in need," she said.
The most purchased items were garden, meat, and dairy products, said Katrin Bats, Rimi's customer relations manager.
"The list of the most purchased products shows that people are aware and understand what this money is for," she said.
Bats said the system could be further improved by adding a customer reward card feature. But, this cannot be added by October.
The ministry has been developing the food card for two years and no major problems have arisen during the trial period, Varrak said.
"Today we are still taking these various developments step by step, and certainly one very important part is the e-shop solution, which we are now able to add so that people in need can also order from the e-shop," she added.
Editor: Mirjam Mäekivi, Helen Wright