Cost-of-Living Crisis – How can a community food pantry help?

As the cost-of-living crisis continues to grip the country, many households across our communities are feeling pushed to the brink. While families and individuals may be feeling the pinch, they may not feel that they are quite at the point at which they may need or be eligible to access a foodbank. However, they may wish to consider reducing their weekly shop by signing up as a member to a local community grocer.

Community Grocers, also known Community Food Pantries bridge the gap between supermarkets and food banks. They help people access healthy food, toiletries, and other household items at a fraction of the cost they would find in a supermarket.

These food pantries tend to be run by local community groups, faith groups etc and rely on volunteers and food donations from various sources in the area such as surplus from supermarkets, or local food waste diversion schemes.

Aimed at helping those who may not be eligible for food banks, community food pantries are open to anyone within the relevant local area to sign up as a member. Membership is typically a weekly payment, less that £5 in most cases. Members can then select somewhere between 10-20 items that would normally cost around £15-£20.

The idea of paying a membership fee can help break down the stigma around accessing affordable food. Sometimes people can feel uncomfortable about receiving such essential things as food, toiletries etc for free, and for this reason, are hesitant to be referred to a food bank. This membership model can therefore be a good option. A Pantry is also a sustainable way for people to access good food every week, rather than a crisis response like a food bank.

Across the West Midlands there are many local pantries, run by community groups, faith groups, and grassroots organisations. Some are independent, while others are in partnership with an overarching charity such as Your Local Pantry or Family Action.

Your Local Pantry is a franchise of community grocers across the UK who are managed by the charity Church Action on Poverty, a national ecumenical Christian social justice charity, committed to tackling poverty in the UK. Each branch of Your Local Pantry is run by volunteers in partnership with churches, community centres or organisations.

Your Local Pantry – Locations in Birmingham and Sandwell

Family Action is a national charity transforming lives by providing practical, emotional and financial support to those who are experiencing poverty, disadvantage and social isolation across the country.

Family Action launched Food On Our Doorstep (FOOD) clubs to provide good-quality food at a low cost, while also reducing food waste. It costs just £1 a year for a family to become a member. Once you’ve joined, you can purchase a bag of tasty food items every week worth approx. £10-£15 for just £3.50! To become a member you must live or work within approximately 15 minutes of a club.

Family Action runs FOOD Clubs in different areas of the country. In the West Midlands, FOOD clubs can be found in various locations across Birmingham.

Community Shop @ The Big Venture Centre

This community grocers opened in June 2022 in order to provide people across Wolverhampton access to affordable food.

People join as members of the community shop for £5 for the year.

Members will then automatically receive a free bag of shopping and the opportunity to purchase more food and other essential items such as toiletries at a reduced cost.

The Incredible Surplus is a slightly different form of Community Grocer in that they offer a “Pay-as-you-feel” model rather than a weekly membership.

The Incredible Surplus was originally known as The Real Junk Food Project Birmingham, intercept food and other usable materials that would otherwise go to waste from supermarkets, restaurants and other sources, and provide them to individuals and community organisations.

Food bags are then offered from four locations across the city

Wolves Waste Not is another grassroots community grocer inspired by The Real Junk Food Project. Wolves Waste Not runs a surplus food market twice a week from a local community space, and, like The Incredible Surplus, they use a Pay-as-you-feel model. Wolves Waste Not also invites customers to pay in alternative ways such as time and with skills in addition to using money.

These food pantries and community grocers offer such a valuable and needed service. Supporting the local community and reducing the cost of your weekly shop is brilliant. In most cases the food sold is surplus or past its best before date, saving it from landfill and from being wasted. Good for the environment and good for your pocket.