Tackling the Cost of Living Crisis: Food Pantries

Tackling the Cost of Living Crisis: Food Pantries

05 September 2022 by Elizabeth Welch in Food Poverty, Debt and Financial Wellbeing.

Over the coming weeks we’ll be publishing a series of blogs about churches all considering their responses to the Cost of Living Crisis in our midst.

We know things will be incredibly tough for churches themselves… but we also know that local churches and chaplaincies are utterly committed as part of their ministry to showing the love of Jesus through practical action and service of their communities, whatever the challenges they face.

So we offer this collection of stories and ideas, mindful that many churches will not be able to stretch much in this incredibly difficult season financially.

However, we still want to celebrate and share what some church communities are doing and hope there may be ideas that are helpful for others, too.

What is a Food Pantry?

Westbourne Park Pantry is a ‘pop-up’ food pantry that runs on Thursdays and Fridays at Westbourne Park Baptist Church (WPBC). We are located in the W2 area of London, about 15 minutes from Paddington Station, and have been open since March 2021.

WPBC has a long history on the same site since 1887. We are in the third church building, which opened in 2019. We are a worshipping congregation of around 100 adults, young people and children, which is representative of the local community in cultural diversity, adding richness to the church.

The church is located on the corner of an area of higher value housing, opposite Royal Oak tube station. The main train line from Paddington and the Westway flyover create a division between the community, with large housing estates on the other side.

WPBC has a long history of social action, stemming from the church of the late 1800’s, when the church community were involved in housing, finance and education projects. This set a precedent for the generations ahead.

In the last 30 years the church has set up a charity, Westbourne Park Family Centre, who support children, young people and parents.

During COVID-19 WPBC was keen to support the local community. Westminster City Council approached us and offered funding to open a Food Pantry. This seemed a great project for the church to serve and connect with people.

Westminster City Council informed us about Your Local Pantry (run by Church Action on Poverty). We engaged with them for advice on how to start. They offered really helpful resources and training. With our funding agreement requiring us to be up and running within 8 weeks, the YLP information pack was invaluable.

Due to the busyness of our church building, the decision was made to run the Pantry as a pop-up model. The shelving is wheeled trolleys, which are stored between sessions. We have taken over the large church store cupboard as a back up storage space for donated and purchased food.

When our Pantry members arrive, they are welcomed in the entrance area of the church, where we set up our shelving and fridge each week. They are encouraged to bring their membership card, pay £5 for each shop and their details are recorded on the YLP portal.

New members either register online at YLP or are helped to register at the Pantry. Members are then offered a shopping basket, browse the shelves, and can choose 3 items with a ‘red heart’; and 7 items classified as a ‘blue diamond’ which have a value under £1.50. We can usually also offer some free items, which are close to their use by date, or are in plentiful supply.

This adds up to at least £20-£30 of food, saving our members money each time they visit (normally weekly).

The food is provided by The Felix Project; from donations and excess stock reallocation received via the local Food Bank and local stores. The £5 weekly cost is reinvested in purchasing staple food items to stock the shelves.

It is great to have this opportunity to welcome people into the church building, to get to know them, to have conversations we wouldn’t have had without the Pantry.

Running the Pantry fits into the mission of the church as it gives opportunity for us to outwork part of our vision statement to Love God and Love People. We have a team of volunteers mainly from the church, so are able to pray together before the Pantry opens, and seek to share God’s love through our relationships with those we speak with. We are also able to connect with volunteers who are not church goers, and explain our ethos to them.

We have seen a connection between the church and the Pantry. It has provided a volunteer opportunity for the church members, and the intercessory prayer team pray for it regularly. A few people have started attending the church, and one person has made the decision to commit herself to God and asked to be baptised.

The Pantry has made the church building more accessible to people from all cultures and ethnicities, which has provided opportunities to support them. One man came to the Pantry to ask for prayer following a cancer diagnosis. Another man brought his childhood bible into the Pantry asking if it would be useful for someone as he hasn’t read it for years and was put off religion as a child. This provided the opportunity for a conversation.

When other churches approach us who are exploring setting up a Pantry, we are always willing to show them around and explain how it works for us, sharing the positives and the challenges of our 16 month experience! We encourage them about the opportunities this ministry will open up and, if they are local, we are keen to talk about how we can work together to support the local community.

We hope you find this series of blogs related to tackling the Cost of Living Crisis helpful. If you, or anyone you know, is doing something innovative to support people in your community through this time, please let us know - we would love to share it!

You may also find some of our other resources on this topic useful - please click HERE to access reports, articles, our Money Help Toolkit, links to charities working in this area, and more.

Elizabeth Welch

Elizabeth is the Assistant Pastor and Parish Nurse at Westbourne Park Baptist Church

View all posts by Elizabeth Welch

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