The British group Action Hunger installed its first such machine last month and plans to come to the States soon.
Credit: Yuri Arcurs/Getty Images

Some ideas sound inherently strange, but the more you learn about them, the more and more sense they make. Along those lines, your first reaction to this news might be a double take: A British nonprofit called Action Hunger has developed a vending machine for the homeless—not stocked with soda and candy, but with the goods they need to live. The first one was introduced in Nottingham, England last month, and they’re slated to arrive stateside soon, with one planned for New York City in February.

Unlike what’s sold in typical vending machines, everything in Action Hunger’s machines is free. To access these items, which includes food like fruit, sandwiches and energy bars, as well as other necessities like clean socks and toothbrushes, people in need have to reach out to a local homeless organization which then provides them with an access card.

Founder Huzaifah Khaled said he came up with the idea while talking to homeless people during his commute as a doctoral student at the University of Cambridge. “There is a critical need for access to food and clothing outside the capacity that shelters can offer,” Khaled told Fast Company. For shelters, budgets are tight, and hours are limited, he said. “It requires the homeless to schedule their days around visits to the shelter, making it hard to hold a stable job or see family regularly…. Our vending machines offer 24/7 access, so they can be used at a person’s convenience–and completely free of charge.”

As would be expected, access to the machines is limited. For the first machine, which Action Hunger operates in partnership with a homeless organization called The Friary, users can access three items from the machine each day, and they much check back in each week to keep their card active. “I want our low-cost vending machines to complement other existing services, as I believe continued engagement with local services is key to ending the cycle of homelessness, and linking the use of our cards to continued engagement with these services is a way I believe we can ensure that,” said Khaled.

Action Hunger’s concept is already gaining momentum. The initial machine in Nottingham was donated to the group for free, and its success has led to a further donation of 100 additional machines. UberEats has even partnered with the nonprofit to help with restocking efforts, which is otherwise handled by volunteers. Khaled says that after New York City, his US plans include machines in San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles. Turns out vending machines for the homeless may be a perfectly sensible idea.