This paper derives from a study of community food aid in a multi-ethnic, multi-faith city in the North of England. The paper begins to make sense of the diversity of types of food insecurity assistance, examines the potential exclusion of certain groups from receipt of food aid, and explores the relationship between food aid providers and the state. Faith-based food aid is common in the case study area, particularly among food bank provision to the most ‘destitute’ clients. While food aid is adopting service responsibilities previously borne by the state, this does not imply an extension of the ‘shadow state’. Rather, it appears reflective of a pre-welfare state system of food distribution, supported by religious institutions and individual/business philanthropy, but adapted to be consistent with elements of the ‘Big Society’ narrative. Most faith-based providers are Christian. There is little Muslim provision of (or utilisation of) food aid, despite the local demographic context. This raises concerns as to the unintentional exclusion of ethnic and religious groups, which we discuss in the concluding sections.