Community pantry gives free food to those who need it, ‘no questions asked’
Ecoswap CIC, on High Street, is running a community pantry which gives free food to those who need it without asking for vouchers, paperwork or referrals.
The pantry, which has been running since April last year, provides pasta, rice, bread, cereals, canned goods and more for anyone in need.
Those who use the pantry do not need to have food vouchers, referrals or any of the paperwork required to access a traditional food bank. Instead, Ecoswap’s staff say residents are free to take as much as they need, whenever they need it.
Organiser Jade Francis’ vision was for a judgement-free, supportive space where people could take what they needed and go, no questions asked.
“We were finding that a lot of people were feeling very embarrassed or ashamed to go and ask for food bank vouchers, so the community pantry was really set up so that people don’t have to feel embarrassed or feel ashamed, they can just come in, no-questions asked, help themselves and leave. They don’t even have to have a conversation with us, they can just do whatever they need.
“Some of them do have a chat and say they’re experiencing some financial difficulties but a lot of people literally come in, take what they need and go again,” she said.
Alongside the free food, EcoSwap has also added a ‘pay-it-forward’ service to the pantry, which allows customers to pay for someone else’s essential items. Anything from a coffee or laundry detergent, if it’s in the shop and it might make someone else’s day better, customers can pay it forward. When an item is bought forward through the system, staff post a voucher on the shop’s board, allowing another customer to bring it to the till and redeem it.
Alongside all this, the pantry works hand in hand with Food Equally Distributed (FED). A local organisation which produces home-cooked meals for families in crisis. The organisation now makes a number of meals to be stored in the pantry freezer, free for anyone who needs them.
As always, though, the food is never simply food, and Ms Francis made clear that, for many people, the pantry is a lifeline, a vital source of human connection and support: “Some people come in just to get that human connection, to see another person, another friendly face. Sometimes they just literally stick their head in the door, say hello, ask how we are, we ask how they are and off they go again. I think it’s about having that someone to just touch base with and see that they’re okay.”
For more on Ecoswap’s community pantry, like and follow it’s Facebook page.
Or, to find out more about FED, follow the organisation on social media.