A village church has launched a Community Pantry to tackle problems including the cost-of-living crisis, wellbeing and ecological concerns such as food waste.
St Cuthbert's Church in Great Glen set up its ‘Give, Take, Swap’ shelves in the church porch only last month and they are already being well utilised by people in the community.
Donations of tinned goods, packets, pasta, rice and jars of sauce, plus hygiene products and even fresh foods like bread, fruit and vegetables, are available for people to take as they need, to make up or supplement a meal, and swap for other food stuffs.
Alongside donations from the church and wider community - including the benefice villages of Burton Overy and Carlton Curlieu - local shops such as Co-op and farm shop, Cheese and Pickle, are also gifting fresh foods that would otherwise have gone to waste.
Revd Ben Williams, curate at St Cuthbert’s, says: “The pantry’s aim is that we want it to be open to everyone - not just those who need food – so we’ve taken away that label and are looking at it as something for people to give, take, swap and enjoy, with the idea of reducing food waste.
“Any surplus we have, or anything we don’t feel is appropriate, is given to our local food banks in Oadby and Kibworth.”
The pantry is open during the week, and isn’t staffed at this time, working on an honesty basis.
With the idea of a ‘community fridge’ already in mind, as part of a long-range plan which includes building a missional hub next door to the church, the more immediate decision to create a community pantry and address matters currently concerning the parish has proved a popular decision.
Ben says: “When we initially advertised it on Facebook and the village pages, in just a couple of hours we had 11 shares and it had reached more than 4000 people. In terms of momentum of response, people thought it was a good idea and showed goodwill towards it, and for us that was impactful, knowing the project was worth doing and welcomed by the village.
“In the first week it didn’t feel like people were using it, but we were encouraged by the team to carry on and there have been occasions when we’ve been in church and I’ve seen a trickle of people come and use it, and I’m encouraged by those moments,” he explains. “Of course, we also pursue contact with anyone who welcomes it.”
Ben says there’s a discreet place for people to write their details if they would like a conversation, or need support, and an information board, sign posting to organisations including The Well in Kibworth and Too Good To Go, which tackles food waste.
“It’s an experiment right now, but we’re just trying to be a place where people can get food if they need it, or give away any excess. Anyone can take part in a cool community project, and church is at the centre of the community’s life,” Ben continues.
“Coming out of Covid, the theme for our whole year is the wellbeing of the community and this has shaped every project in our church. It’s made us as a community more aware of who’s around in the village and more aware of the people who need support and access to the pantry. Like every village, we have hidden poverty and issues.”
And it seems to be working. In the last couple of months, the shelves have been full, emptied and restocked steadily by the small team of church family who are enabling the project and offering their time and gifts in loving service.
Ben says: “The coolest thing for me is that it’s essentially been set up at no cost, other than that of time, including the shelving unit that houses the pantry, which was made and donated by a member of our PCC who had the wood left over and the skills to create something we will be able to use in church for many years to come.
“The social benefits of this, in a rural church like ours with very little income, are brilliant.”
During Covid, the church and parish council have worked in partnership, and building upon that good relationship, St Cuthbert’s is seeking to continue widening its reach beyond its own worshiping communities.
“The vision that we have, as part of church life, is that faith goes beyond Sundays,” explains Ben. “Welcoming people and showing our generosity, hospitality, and care through projects such as this gives us an opportunity to enable our church family to respond in practical ways within their village, and also shows those not yet connected to us that faith in Jesus can have a real impact.
“We want to see a difference being made, by bringing the Kingdom of God into the village and creating a sense of peace in the people we have a heart for,” he continues. “Though small, Great Glen has its own culture, and the church has the opportunity to become a hub for the community. We’re praying the pantry is a blessing to many, and a project the village can unify around for mutual support and the reduction of food waste.”
*The Community Pantry is open Monday to Friday, 10am - 3pm, in the Church Foyer. For more info, email email@example.com