Community stores offer a range of healthy food items for £5 a week

A volunteer-led community store in Brixton offers members a weekly choice of 20 healthy food items for £5.

Every Thursday, customers at the Southwyck Pantry can choose ten fresh fruit and vegetable items and ten cupboard items donated by supermarkets and other food suppliers.

Unlike food banks, the pantry model provides customers with the opportunity to choose their items based on what they like to cook and eat.

The store is operated by a Lambeth-based non-profit health organization.

“The strength of this model is the dignity of people who can say ‘I don’t need this today, I actually need X, Y, Z’,” said CEO and Director Kate Paul.

“This is about helping this community find their voice and say what they want.

“Our ambition is to say that we use food to satisfy an immediate need, but we also use it to address and reach out to the broader problems that affect this community.”

The store is operated in partnership with Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing (MTVH), which presented the Morelands Community Center as the current Southwyck Pantry venue.

Imelda Chapata, Regional Director of Community Engagement at MTVH, said: “We have noticed the proximity of food insecurity to where we are.

“So MTVH was happy to provide the venue as well as funding for the Healthy Living platform for those who couldn’t afford £5, because we knew there was a need in the community we serve.”

Morelands Community Center includes a large community hall for members to share tea, coffee and cake and a large garden area that members can use free of charge between 11am and 4pm.

Members also have access to services such as benefits advice, literacy, computer skills development, or mental health services, with the goal of meeting the specific demand of the community.

The additional community need was another reason why MTVH was thrilled to offer the new venue.

“If you’re dealing with food insecurity, it usually means there are a lot of issues, so we want to provide all services under one roof,” Chapata added.

Healthy Living Platform Community Programs Director Helen Wiggins stressed the importance of skills development through the store model.

“Assets within our community are what makes this approach based on assets,” she said.

“In our society, people are skilled and committed, and it really facilitates access to these skills.”

Some members may be involved in skill development more formally, such as the Food Ambassador Program facilitated by the Healthy Living Program in partnership with LEAP Lambeth.

This is a free training course offered to volunteers to develop the skills and confidence to cook healthy and affordable food and to obtain a Level 2 Certificate in Food Hygiene.

Deepa Kozer has been a volunteer at the store for a year and has completed a six-week course.

She enjoyed being creative with recipes that don’t involve meat or frying, and people sharing food and techniques from their countries.

“Before the pantry, I didn’t eat much fruit and veggies, and the choice definitely encouraged me to cook more healthy food,” Kozer said.

But the basic needs are expensive. People are even struggling to pay £5 and I think it will get busier and people will rely on the store more.”

As the cost-of-living crisis worsens, the demand for pantry items such as the pantry model is likely to increase.

Southwyck Pantry is one of four stores to be operated in southwest London, and Paul emphasized that the model could be replicated.

In addition to the potential to expand geographically, the existing stores will be self-sustaining with the goal of allowing the community to continue managing itself.

Paul noted that this won’t always be the case, and he hopes some stores won’t need to continue serving their communities.

“Ultimately, if society doesn’t want it, then you can say it served what it needed,” she added.

The Southwyck Pantry is open every Thursday between 11am and 4pm at the Moorland Community Center.

Go to healthylivingplatform.org to find your nearest store.

Featured image credit: Martin Cathrae via Flickr under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license

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