An innovative ‘community pantry’ in St Helen Auckland that helps local people reduce grocery costs and cut food waste has reopened after a coronavirus pause.
The project, funded by believe housing, helps anyone in the community to improve their eating habits as well as saving money. Run by local community interest company Little Chefs Big Chefs, the Community Pantry provides a whole range of cut-price food and household items for just a nominal charge.
The produce is collected from local supermarkets and other retailers, who have agreed to donate end-of-line products or items that are likely to be thrown away as they reach their ‘best before’ date. A large pantry has been created at St Helen’s Parish Hall in Middlewood Green, which will be open every Tuesday and Thursday from 10am to 12 noon.
The pantry was launched in March and opened its doors briefly before being forced to close at the start of the pandemic. The team behind the initiative set up a coronavirus community support project during lockdown, to support those most in need with free food hampers. They also created £5 food hampers for delivery and collection during the pandemic, which are still available for order and collection.
Extra social distancing measures, hand sanitiser and a host of other precautions have now been introduced to allow the pantry to reopen.
The items available range from fruit and veg to tinned food, bread, meat and toiletries. Flowers and other household items are often in stock, while pre-loved clothing is also being offered.
All of the food is being offered at a very low cost, with all income used towards collecting food and running the project. Although primarily aimed at people living in St Helen Auckland, the pantry will also be open to people from all surrounding areas and has already attracted interest from people living as far away as Stanhope.
Almost £10,000 of funding for the project has come from believe housing’s community investment programme. The County Durham-based housing association has supported hundreds of community projects throughout the area, ranging from food banks to netball clubs.
The funding prioritises projects that deliver outcomes including helping local people into employment or training and reducing the effects of poverty. The community pantry project is the first to be funded under a new priority of reducing, reusing and recycling with a focus on innovative thinking to support the planet. Applications for funding from believe housing under the new priority are now open to community groups.
The project has also received £500 from believe housing’s small grants programme to help pay for extra equipment needed to allow doors to reopen after the coronavirus pandemic.
Community Investment Officer at believe housing, Kimberley Batey, said: “This project is a great way of saving money on your food shop as well as cutting waste at the same time.
“The team worked tirelessly to find other ways to provide support to those most in need during the pandemic. But it’s great that the team have been able to find a way to safely open again; I know they were keen to get back to the good work they started before the pandemic.
“All of the food in the community pantry is perfectly edible and meets the highest food hygiene standards, but otherwise would have been thrown in the bin and ended up in land fill if it wasn’t for this project. It’s far better that it can be used to help people save money instead, and of course they are doing their bit to help save our planet.”
Joanne Iceton from Little Chefs Big Chefs said: “We are overjoyed that believe housing has invested in this project as we feel it can benefit the community and area so much.
“We are passionate about reducing all kinds of waste and supporting people in the community to access affordable food. This project ticks these boxes as not only do we collect perfectly edible surplus foods, but we also unpack many items at the stores allowing them to recycle the packaging that can’t be recycled at home. Any foods that are unfit for human consumption, or are past their best, are passed on to a local farmer which ensures that we have as little waste as possible. We are aware of the impact of food and plastic waste on our environment so aim to do whatever we can to reduce this.
“We also hope to involve members of the local community by offering volunteering roles to ensure that the project is community led whilst helping them to feel valued, supported and to gain further skills.”