The Sapphire Community Pantry has come together to mark an incredible milestone this week, celebrating its fifth birthday after having first opened on September 28, 2017.
The pantry (run by Sapphire Community Projects) has been a lifeline for so many in the Bega Valley community, and has helped people ride out the hardships that accompanied bushfires and the pandemic.
It has certainly grown since its humble beginnings occupying a small space next to the Salvation Army store on Gipps Street in Bega.
Volunteers remembered fondly how "small but very friendly and homely" the space was and that they had to purchase a small gazebo for out the front for people to stand under while they waited for their items.
Pantry president Christine Welsh said at the time of opening "there were a lot of naysayers" who said the pantry was not needed, but on the first day of opening around 100 people turned up to use the service.
She said traction built from there and the community came to understand they weren't "fly-by-nighters" and didn't have "a hidden agenda" and were purely trying to "serve the community and rescue good food from landfill".
In May 2018 the pantry had "outgrown" its small shopfront next to the Salvos and found a new space it could rent affordably from a Bemboka farmer on Peden St in Bega (where it has remained). Paint was donated from a local shop and volunteers helped paint and fit out the space.
During the bushfires Ms Welsh became a voice for the community when donations started flooding in from around the country and she coordinated with Pantry volunteers and other charity organisation to get the supplies people actually needed and distributed accordingly.
Pantry volunteers also worked in the kitchen at the Bega Showground to support and feed evacuees and assisted with food deliveries to bushfire victims.
During COVID the pantry and its volunteers delivered bags of food and supplies to people in isolation, including some people who may not have been able to afford minimum spends for home delivery grocery shopping.
At the 5th birthday celebration on September 28, 2022, Ms Welsh acknowledged the many volunteers who had dedicated their time since the pantry first open its doors to help support the community.
She said many of the volunteers had "really grown" and come out of their shell since starting.
"This place gives them a purpose and a knowledge that what they are doing is helping others and also making friends.
"We're also breaking down isolation and reducing loneliness."
Ms Welsh said the pantry was now facing different challenges, including a huge increase in people facing homelessness due to the rental crisis plaguing the Far South Coast community.
She said the service had recently been focusing much of its attention onto making ready-made meals that could be distributed or heated for people.
The reopening of Ricky's Place in April 2022 was another great achievement of Sapphire Community Projects and have been feeding around 80 people every Monday since.
Ms Welsh said the organisation would soon be offering cooking classes as a way to bring people from isolated or socially disadvantaged backgrounds together for a bit of fun in the kitchen.
Ms Welsh said "community connection" had always been at the forefront of everything the organisation had ever done.
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