Free period products available at the Bognor Regis pantry
Ecoswap’s community pantry, which has been open in their High Street shop since earlier this year, is now offering free period products alongside food and other day to day essentials.
Like everything else in the pantry, the products are entirely free and residents do not need any kind of referral to pick them up. Organiser Jade Francis said it was important to her that the service is both discreet and available to anyone who needs it.
“For me, previously, before I was working and I had to access food banks and stuff, (period products) were one of the things I was quite embarrassed to ask for, even though I was often asking a woman, it was still quite embarrassing to have to ask for.” The products come in small care packages which include sanitary towels, shower gels and tampons in a discreet packaging. “I’m really using my past experience of having to access these products, what things made me uncomfortable to ask for, what things I was shy to ask for or what I wasn’t sure I was allowed to ask for. I thought ‘if I put it in the pantry, people don’t have to be embarrassed. You can grab a bag and off you go.’”
The period products are just one part of an expansion to the pantry which has taken place over several months.
When it first opened several months ago, the community pantry only offered free food, but has since expanded to offer frozen, microwaveable meals, shower gel, shampoo, books, toothpaste, fresh produce and a variety of other vital products that might be difficult for people in vulnerable positions to procure.
Although many of the products are kindly donated by the community, some of them -like the hats and gloves she’s bought for winter- were purchased by Ms Francis herself, who often finds herself reaching into her own pockets to keep the pantry stocked.
“I don’t mind (doing it),” she said, “Because I understand, having been embarrassed during past experiences. I’m helping the community, and that’s something I’m quite passionate about. I don’t mind going out and buying a couple of hats and glove sets and sticking them on the pantry for someone that’s going to need them.”
Part of what motivates Ms Francis is a sense that she had to get by without the kind of support she offers. When she was in a vulnerable position, she said, “There was none of this. Even just for somewhere to come and offload, there was nothing like this at all. It was just the foodbank, and you don’t get a choice at the foodbank, you get what you’re given.
“This is about making that connection with people, letting them know we’re here. It gives me joy really to know that I;m helping people that are embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help.”
And, for Ecoswap owner Gemma Hawkins, that need to help people is even bigger then before, with winter around the corner and the Universal Credit uplift being cut, she believes the pantry will provide a vital service to Bognor’s most vulnerable people: “The main instigator for expanding the pantry has been the loss of the Universal Credit bonus and the ending of the furlough scheme,” she said.
“We had another lady in today who was due to start receiving her pension, but it was delayed and they couldn’t tell her when she was going to receive it. So she worked her whole life and now she’s at a stage in life where she’s supposed to be taking a step back and not worrying about things, but she’s got no money to buy anything.
“It’s a very difficult time for everybody at the moment.”
To find out more about the community pantry, click here to visit its Facebook page.