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The affordable stores tackling foodbank stigma

Words by Smiley Team

In response to welfare reforms and rising food insecurity, Foundations Stockport in Greater Manchester came up with a thoughtful solution. Rather than handing out food for free, they decided to humanise support with a new initiative - Your Local Pantry

These stores around the country allow struggling households to select food just like they would while shopping. For a small weekly fee of around £3.50, pantry members can choose at least 10 items. 

There are fridges, freezers and fresh grocery displays of produce sourced from food charity FareShare. Visitors can pay at a counter and sometimes even access nutritional advice and meal plans from a personal shopping assistant.

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“The pantry is more of a hand up than a handout,” explains Stockport coordinator Elena Vacca. “We felt that this kind of system would have the most positive impact on communities, tackling food waste while supporting households without an affordable local food store.”

‘People deserve dignity’

But the pantries don’t just offer food. Visitors often arrive in the morning, well before the food pantries open. While waiting they use the space to socialise, joining coffee mornings, knitting sessions and more to chat and learn new skills.

In addition, people using the pantries can volunteer there, gaining work experience that broadens their employment opportunities. “Although a lot of people that use the pantry are actually working around 40 hours a week on minimum wages,” Elena adds, “because it’s all kinds of people who need the support.”

To access the pantries there’s no referral system - anyone can apply. They simply have to fill out a private questionnaire expressing why they’d benefit from pantry membership, for instance, if they struggle to pay rent or utility bills.

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But what really sets the pantries apart from foodbanks is their ethos, offering thoughtful support rather than simple charity. “I think at the end of the day, people deserve dignity and when people are struggling more than ever during the pandemic and with Universal Credit cut back by £20, this support is vital,” says Elena.

Since its launch in 2014, Your Local Pantry has grown, with 57 stores popping up across the whole of England, Scotland and Wales. Anyone can start a pantry in their local area to build these numbers and spread support elsewhere.

Become a friend of Your Local Pantry by donating here.

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This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

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