A couple of weeks ago, I visited Mrs Pantry, intrigued by the idea of putting food and other provisions in an unlocked cupboard, telling people who need food to help themselves.
Down at Pantry HQ in Stratton, we discussed what lies behind this philanthropic idea.
Mrs Pantry explained how she’d had the idea in her head for a long time. She said:
I’ve used foodbanks in the past and know what it feels like asking for help, especially for something like food, such a basic right. I remember going to the Council in Reading to get a food voucher. My experience then of the food bank there was of a buzzer, an intercom system, an interview, of feeling exposed talking to someone through a sliding window behind which people were chatting to each other, while I wasn’t a part of it. I was asked for my voucher and in return handed a plastic bag. I felt ‘it can’t get any worse than this’. To be treated as I was made me feel as bad as if they’d treated me like nothing.
My faith was restored by a lovely gent at the Council who ‘phoned me regularly and put me in touch with a foodbank run by a church They would deliver food (she struggles with fibromyalgia) and pop a treat in there, like some chocolate, to make me feel good. They checked up on me when I was feeling at my most vulnerable. At the time, my mental health was poor and I was in and out of hospital. What I really needed was therapy, and it appalls me still that whether you get therapy or not is often down to money, not need. I am now training to be a therapist and hope I can use those skills later to help people in need, also for free.
With her partner, Mrs Pantry moved to the Bude area for a quieter, more relaxed way of life. She feels that not everyone is ready to ask for help when they need it, so her cupboard is open 24/7, containing food, tea, coffee, blankets, etc.
Anyone can help themselves at any time. I trust in the community not to abuse the facility and so far that trust has proved right. It is hard though to reach the people who really need it. If anyone can help provide food, that helps us to put together emergency food parcels for individuals and families. I am hoping to join the Morsbag group to distribute food in the bags rather than using plastic. If people come here and ask for help, the door is open, no matter who they are. Chill here, cry, have tea and a biscuit if if helps. Or come and sit in silence. We can help with food, referral to groups that my assist, accessing the community health team, listening, and helping to make a GP appointment.
From personal experience, negative events can be used positively.
If people want to leave food donations (no fresh or perishable items, please) they can leave them at the box at the top of the drive, or in the porchway, or come in and say hi. We also want to start a baby bank with starter kits for new parents, but also sanitary products for girls and women. We are happy to take donations of buggies, cots, nappies, maternity clothes and baby clothes which we store in the spare room.
We also have an interview-ready scheme. If you need clothes that look smart for a job interview, we can help. If you have wearable trousers, skirts, shoes to donate or unopened unused toiletries, we can use them. Nothing will go to landfill. Anything we can’t use will be recycled or reused elsewhere.
There’s always someone who will pour scorn on the idea of helping people for nothing, so I asked the obvious question: what’s in it for you?
I’m not doing this for any other reason than to give back. I’ve spent some of my life in a bad place feeling useless and rubbish, so I don’t want others to feel that way. You always remember the person who helped.
Mrs Pantry has big and ambitious ideas which require the community to work with her. This is just the start. She says:
I am meeting with the Foodbank to see how we can complement each other, but we also offer chance to chat, or a have a hug. I’ve met up with Hi5 Talktime to see how we can work together. My question is always: how can I help? It’s to let people know they are not alone and that someone cares, no questions asked.
Food, toiletries, clothes and essentials. There for everyone and available 24/7 365 days a year.
Find The Pantry at: 23, St Martin’s Road, Stratton.