CRCW’s Little Free Pantry tackles community poverty

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Maria pantry WebCropAccording to the Trussell Trust’s latest statistics, 823,145 three-day emergency food supplies were given to people in crisis in the UK between April and September 2019. More than a third of these (301,653) went to children.

United Reformed Church Related Community Worker (CRCW) Maria JY Lee, who works with a CRCW project in Chelmsford, discusses the worrying trends she has identified in the community she works in:

“North Avenue is one of the most deprived areas in Chelmsford. People’s needs for basic foods and personal care items are high.

“Sadly, after 90 years of serving the community, North Avenue United Reformed Church (URC) closed in 2018. Not long after the closure, Chelmsford Foodbank closed the North Avenue Christian Centre (NACC) as a distribution centre.

“The Jubilee Community Café (JCC) team, which was based at North Avenue URC and worked with Chelmsford Foodbank at NACC, were very disappointed by this final decision.

“However, people continued to knock on the NACC’s door to get food and essential goods. Although the JCC team supplied the community’s needs as much as they could by serving hot meals at a reasonable price twice a week at NACC, I wanted to tackle poverty-related social issues such as child poverty, hardship in lone parent households and mental health-related isolation.

“Our neighbourhoods in North Avenue are literally trapped in a cycle of deep poverty and the team and I were keen to find effective ways of continuing to support their needs.

“According to a Public Health England report in 2017, life expectancy is 6.7 years lower for men and 2.9 years lower for women in the most deprived areas (e.g. North Avenue) of Chelmsford than the least deprived area. In terms of child poverty, 28% of all children, in the UK, are living in poverty.

“After a long discussion with the team, I found an interesting project called, the Little Free Pantry (LFP) which began in the US in 2016. It’s a grassroots initiative for neighbours helping neighbours. For example, if someone has an extra tin of soup, it can be left in the pantry and then someone who needs the soup can take it. It is simple; you do not need to bring a voucher and there is no time limit to using the pantry. You can access it whenever you want.

Little free pantry group pic“LFB at North Avenue is managed by the JCC staff. We had a launch event on 10 December 2019 with our local Church of England members and residents. A blessing was made over the pantry and we left the shelves full of useful items. I went back the following day and was surprised to find the pantry was almost empty, realising that those who used it must be in a desperate situation. I found an envelope in the back of the shelf which said, ‘Thank you’ and there was £1 coin in it. I felt overwhelmed.

“I am convinced that this kind of gesture shows a little step forward to building a happier community, because this community knows how to live co-operatively.

“I pray that LFP at North Avenue may be used as a tool for transforming an area where, in spite of poverty, people.”

More information on becoming a CRCW can be found here.


Picture: Maria JY Lee

Published: 15 January 2020

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