Community pantry addressing Wigan food needs
A grass-roots scheme to provide Wiganers with low-cost food has grown rapidly in its first few months of operation.
Shevington Community Pantry started out during lockdown in the spring and now has 100 members.
Based at St Anne’s Parish Centre, the group of volunteers began their work by delivering emergency food parcels for those struggling with their finances or unable to get out to the shops.
However, when restrictions started to ease in July the group had considerable monetary support from ward councillors and from discount store B&M.
They decided to keep going as a membership scheme providing low-cost produce to those who signed up and joined forces with Fur Clemt, which works to keep edible food from being thrown away and ending up in landfill.
This move means Shevington Community Pantry is now popular not only with those who find themselves cash-strapped and need assistance getting food on the table but those who want to support the organisation for other reasons, such as being concerned about the future of the planet and the contribution of food waste to environmental issues.
Shevington Community Pantry treasurer Vicky Galligan said: “We started basically as a food bank, doing deliveries out to the community during lockdown.
“We provided fresh food as well as tins, breakfast cereals, UHT milk, everything we need to make up emergency food parcels.
“We were sending out around 20 packages a week to people in the community who literally couldn’t go out to the shops because of the lockdown or who were struggling with their finances.
“We had been given £1,500 in Brighter Borough funding from our councillors and £1,500 from B&M to spend in their stores on things we could then stock up in the foodbank and give away free.
“That wasn’t sustainable in the long term but people still needed affordable food so we talked to Fur Clemt and they were keen on us becoming another outlet for them.
“We thought this was a really good idea. They now stock us with food which we collect twice a week and stock up our little pantry for people to come down.
“There are no stipulations for membership. You don’t have to be on benefits or struggling with money.
“It can be about environmental awareness. We do get people coming to us from the angle of wanting to do their bit for the planet and prevent food waste.”
Shevington Community Pantry members pay £5 for the year to be part of the scheme and then hand over a further £2 when they visit.
This entitles them to 20 items from the pantry and there are also low-cost special items available if people want to buy them.
The pantry is also looking at whether or not it will be able to put some special deals in place for occasions such as Christmas.
A 13-strong team of volunteers is now running the operation, which has had to introduce a range of measures due to Covid-19.
These include slightly extending the opening times on the days the pantry is open, limiting the number of people who can enter at the same time and ensuring social distancing takes place throughout the building.
Vicky said the people who come to the pantry are “a total mixture” but made it clear that there are considerable social problems in Wigan which means people need low-cost food because they are experiencing considerable difficulties making ends meet.
She said: “We’ve got families coming from as far afield as Coppull and there are a lot of people who are struggling with benefits such as Pension Credit or Jobseekers’ Allowance.
“Some people are single parents, some are retired. They’re finding the cost of living has risen whereas benefits and salaries haven’t.
“People were struggling before the coronavirus hit but that has made it worse.
“The community pantry gives people the option to shop for really cheap food rather than being reliant on handouts.
“It’s about pride. A lot of people won’t go to a foodbank or accept that help because they don’t like admitting they are struggling, but they will come to us and pay as a member.
“It works well for people who perhaps in other circumstances wouldn’t have asked for help.”
Shevington Community Pantry is open at the parish centre on Church Lane on Mondays and Wednesdays between 3.30pm and 5pm.
New members are always welcome and people who want to join the scheme can either turn up and ask for a form or can download one from Shevington Parish Council’s website.
The Community Pantry is also on Facebook and Twitter.