Bega Community Pantry food for thought

Shopping with dignity – that’s the mantra behind a proposed “community pantry” for Bega people who may be struggling to keep nutritious food on their tables.

Christine Welsh, known through the Bega Valley for her work with Sapphire Coast REAP and OzHarvest,  has been working on an idea for a community pantry for a couple of years. Now a space has become available and she hoped a meeting this week will help the plan progress towards an opening date in September.

A community pantry is a not-for-profit shop selling a limited range of groceries and other staples at a significantly lower cost than big supermarkets. The food and items for the pantry are purchased through Foodbank, Australia’s largest hunger relief organisation, and sold on a cost-recovery only basis.

In Bega, the Salvation Army has offered rent-free space for the shopfront, while the Southern Women’s Group has agreed to auspice the “Sapphire Community Pantry” for a six-month trial.

“We want people to come in and shop without having to prove they’re poor, like some other charities require before they open their cupboards,” Ms Welsh said.

“It’s food with dignity.”

Ms Welsh said around 30 per cent of people in the Bega Valley live on some form of government benefit, be it an age pension, Newstart or disability support. There is also high unemployment, meaning many people find it hard to cover all their daily bills while also providing nutritious meals for their family.

“We’re not competing with the big supermarkets as the range will not be as large and the pantry is not open at all hours,” she said.

“But we want people to feel comfortable coming in and shopping.

“I’m hoping that in time we can wean people off the community pantry by also providing outreach services like cooking classes and budget advice.”

There are also hopes to open a similar storefront in Eden should the trial be successful.

A meeting to discuss a steering committee for the Sapphire Community Pantry is scheduled for this Thursday, May 18, 4pm, at the Salvation Army hall in Auckland St, Bega (opposite the high school).

Grocery shopping on a budget

If you are one of the many Bega Valley locals experiencing financial hardship or struggling to keep healthy food options on the family dinner table, a community pantry could be the ticket.

Ms Welsh said it’s planned the Sapphire Community Pantry would have a membership to give people a sense of inclusion and could turn out to be a social meeting space once further services are added.

Food and other grocery staples – things like tinned food, sanitary items, coffee, flour, toothpaste etc – will be purchased from Foodbank then sold on at a much cheaper cost than supermarkets, on a cost-recovery basis.

Donations from the community would also be very welcome, with Ms Welsh adding that anything donated to the pantry would be donated back to those in need, not charged for.

To get the pantry up and running will require some initial cost layouts – or a call on this community’s well-known philanthropic nature. Things like shelves to fit out the store, a cash register and weigh scales are all needed in addition to an initial purchase of shelf stock.

From there it’s a matter of rolling cost-recovery on supplies and volunteers operating the shop.

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