A pair of Sheffield volunteers have celebrated the expansion of a new community pantry and social café to keep up with increasing local demand.
The scheme offers nutritional frozen food as a convenient alternative to ready-meals at just £1 for anyone in the city who needs them, not just those struggling.
But after unprecedented demand from the local community, the pantry volunteers have successfully expanded the scheme and opened a social café on Tuesday mornings to help even more people access its services.
S12 pantry coordinator, Jayne Mason, 47, from Frecheville, said: “The frozen meals had already been doing so well, but then regulars started saying how much of a life-saver they were as it was the only meal they would have all day.
“So we thought we’d take it one step further and by opening up the pantry, it’s meant we can offer fresh food like bread and vegetables that people can then take home and freeze. It’s a whole other meal for them.”
Making a difference
The extended pantry has only been open for two weeks, but people are already queuing outside the door as an indication of the community need.
Local supermarkets like Co-op have also stepped in to offer surplus food donations to keep the pantry well-stocked and reduce food waste.
Mason said: “It’s crazy to think this started out with us just having a small table outside and now it’s turned into a real community space where people can come and have a hot drink and a chat when collecting their food.
“The support we’ve received from the supermarkets just shows how much food goes to waste, but every bit helps. We’re not a foodbank, but even if the pantry only saves someone 50p, it can make a difference.”
The pantry is currently running on a trial basis, but the volunteers are fairly confident that it will become a permanent part of the community.
Volunteer Caron Britton, 45, of Hackenthorpe, said: “I’ve been friends with Jayne for a long time, so my volunteering just took off from there.
“But we honestly didn’t think that it would expand like this with people queuing outside the door. It’s all come from word-of-mouth and Facebook too so it’s really lovely.”
Despite the pantry being open once a week, there are emergency food parcels available to those who need them, with the group also hoping to offer taster sessions of the £1 frozen meals in the coming weeks.
These sessions aim to give people a taste and feel for the food, and will involve five meals being cooked for people to come down and try before they make a purchase.
Britton said: “It tastes just like a home-cooked meal and more importantly it’s made right here in Sheffield, so it’s supporting our community too.”
The expansion comes as the project recently received funding from Sheffield council in the form of a coronation grant. This has enabled the pantry to celebrate the King’s coronation by throwing a party with tea and cake.
It has also meant that the initiative can run a raffle to help fund the pantry and ensure its future.
Mason said: “It’s going to be so great to bring the community together and every bit of money raised from the raffle will go back into buying food and resources for the pantry and social café.
“We wouldn’t have been able to do this without the support of the grant.”
Giving back to the community
Although the pair suffer from long-term health conditions, they’re proud to be part of the initiative and hope more volunteers can join them so they can expand the scheme even further in the future.
This includes through their ‘crafty chatters’ group, which will encourage the older generations to teach the younger generations how to craft from knitting to crocheting.
Mason said: “It’s very tiring and painful, but it’s amazing being part of this project and it’s worth it to know that we’re helping families put meals on the table.”
This is a sentiment echoed by Britton who added: “We know what it’s like to struggle, so to have lived it ourselves and then be able to give back to the community is just so rewarding.”
The coronation party will be held this morning 9 May from 10am until 12.30pm with the pantry usually being open at the same time every Tuesday.
Anyone is free to attend the pantry with no referrals needed to help keep the scheme discreet.
Mason said: “There’s no questions asked, and nobody should feel judged as there’s no barriers to coming down.
“We rely on the generosity of people donating their surplus food and we hope to continue to help the community.”
To find out more about the pantry visit the Facebook page here
Find out more information on the Coronation party here