Pantry chock full of good will

Sharon Kemp | Bendigo Weekly | 08-Feb-2018

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Julie Clark, Amy Fichell, Cathryn Holt and Anthea Taylor.
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THERE is a good reason why a soon-to-be-launched food distribution project at St Matthews Church in Long Gully will succeed where others have failed – its members hope it will be around for the next decade.

The hope should be that no family has to suffer food insecurity by that time, but the People’s Pantry project clearly means more than a handout to its participants.

Only run so far as a pilot, it was nevertheless a life saver for Long Gully resident Cathryn Holt.

The pilot program tested demand for the service last year and ended up feeding 23 families for $10 each over 11 weeks of last year’s fourth school term.

It opened for registrations last Tuesday and confirmed there are still openings available. The program runs on Tuesdays between 11am and noon at St Matthews hall, at the corner of Eaglehawk Road and Creeth Street, Long Gully, starting on February 13. 

Its distribution method is based on a project of the same name in the United States and the model is also working in Geelong.

People’s Pantry calls for participants to volunteer their time to help organise the food that is distributed to them and other families.

“Anybody can go to a charity and ask for food, but here you have to register and there is a roster, it is ownership. You own that you have asked for help and you put your name down to be a volunteer,” participant and long time community advocate Julie Clark said.

The effect of having to contribute to the program has brought together an inclusive and diverse group of people.

Amy Fichell said volunteering meant she didn’t feel so bad about needing help.

“No one judges, which I think is a big part of it as well, everyone is really supportive,” she said.

Program coordinator Anthea Taylor said there is more than just the food.

“The really good thing about it is people’s willingness to help, everybody has come along and helped out and it is social,” Ms Taylor said.

People’s Pantry has also appealed because people can choose their own food to take home, rather then take what they are given.

The food is sourced from FoodShare in Bendigo, but occasionally a business donation will provide items not commonly given out including coffee and laundry powder.

The Bendigo Sandhurst Rotary Club has given the project a double fridge and freezer.

Ms Taylor is acutely aware of the role the project has already played in the Long Gully community and is working to make sure it doesn’t depend on her.

“I have been coordinating the program, and it has been great and I want to stay involved but one of my aims is to make sure it can run without me, and there are other people who can take on those managerial roles,” she said.

“I want it to be something local people do.”

Ms Holt counts the program and its people as a saviour for her after she moved to Bendigo last September.

“I didn’t know anybody,” she said.

“I was really struggling because the cost of moving had been really much higher than I thought.

“I was looking for somewhere to go to church as well, to meet people.”

As well as making friends, Ms Holt was offered knowledge about Bendigo, bus routes and services in the area.

“To me, it was life saving because I was really quite depressed and thinking I had made a horrible mistake coming to Bendigo,” she said.

“I enjoyed being involved and it kind of got my confidence back, I had lost that confidence because I hardly ever saw anybody.” 

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