How to help the Isle of Wight Community Food Pantry in East Cowes
“We’ve had families in tears, because of the harshness of life,” says Jane Allchorn of Community Spirited, who runs the Isle of Wight’s first community pantry.
“We have a woman with a primary school-aged son who says it’s really difficult.
“They don’t turn the heating on and he eats so much that she actually goes without. We hear that a lot.
“Our members are so relieved. We skip the cold drinks and if we have time we make them a hot drink.”
The Community Pantry in East Cowes is on the cutting edge of the harsh reality of the cost of living crisis.
In the first three weeks after opening its doors (and fridge), it had signed up about 60 members.
Jane told the Isle of Wight County Press: “A couple have arrived with a very young newborn baby and they are really struggling.
“We hope that other organizations will help us and that we can work in partnership.
“Having young children is financially difficult and they were so relieved.
“She was so grateful to be able to choose really good quality items from the shelves.
“There are so many stories. People really need to know about them – so they can help them.”
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How does the East Cowes Community Pantry work?
Through connect4communities, there are plans to set up five community offices on the island. To join, members fill out an application form and can visit once a week.
On the shelves of the Parkside Pavillion on Vectis Road are pastas, rice, sauces, canned fruits, cereals and more.
There are also fridge and freezer items like milk, yogurt, frozen fries, butter and cheese.
Members can choose two “high value” items (like canned meat and fish), ten other things, and also add free fresh fruits and vegetables.
It is open from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and from 10:30 p.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
The East Cowes Community Pantry team provide cooking advice and recipe ideas and the project has become a “community within Community Spirited”, says Jane.
Former volunteer Keith Kite is now a paid staff member, thanks to grants.
“This fridge used to be chocablock but it’s almost empty now,” he told me during my visit. “Cheese in particular is incredibly popular.”
The pantry sits alongside Jane’s home care business and three community groups (Mental Wellness on Tuesday afternoons, Knit and Natter on Wednesday mornings, Games on Thursdays). Regular clubbers travel from East Cowes, Ryde and Newport, but it’s not the same people who sign up at the pantry.
“We see what people need”
Jane thinks this shows there is a previously unknown need for support: “Everything you see happening here is because we are a community-based company. We see what people need.
“Loneliness and isolation have been key over the years.
“The people using the pantry are new to the project. They are people we didn’t know. They are families with young children and elderly people who have been isolated.
“We identified people who struggled with anxiety, but they came because they were desperate and that meant we were able to support them. It all comes together, which is what I wanted.”
Kevin Allchorn and Christine Faulkner from the Community Spirited team.
In the future, there are plans for more – such as a bean-on-toast night.
In the meantime, the project invites us to donate canned and dried food and to offer time and support.
Pantry space, while private and perfect for the vulnerable and struggling, is already tight. It already needs a bigger space to spread out and recently lost securing an empty building in the city.
In the meantime, he tries to ensure that he has a wide range of products.
“We ask members if there’s anything they’d like to see that we don’t have. Everything we do is user-driven. We have someone who is gluten-free, so we’ve been successful. to get products for them,” Jane said.
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She is grateful to everyone who has supported the pantry so far. Among them, Coop has been giving food to community spirits twice a week for three years. Before the pantry, it was used for cooking classes and for club members. Now it can also be used for those who need support in times of financial hardship.
She said: “We urge people to bring dried and canned foods so we can keep our shelves well stocked. Eventually the funding will run out and we need to be sustainable.
“If we could start this now, that would be really good.”