In May 2020 Kensington community members responded to local food needs and worked with Kensington Neighbourhood House to establish a free Food Share Pantry in McCracken Street.
Our Food Pantry team are volunteers of the year – their collaboration and commitment to establishing the pantry has been a brilliant achievement and a silver lining in the craziness of 2020.
Local resident Marti is a member of our Food Share Garden and had the idea to include a food share pantry in the garden in 2019. With the Covid19 pandemic creating additional challenges for many, it occurred to Marti that this might be a good time to kick off the pantry as a way to tackle food insecurity. A few conversations with staff later and it was happening on the veranda of KNH.
Marti and his neighbour Bruce kindly volunteered to build a custom pantry from scratch with recycled materials including a plastics depository on the side for hard plastics. Interest from other locals Jessie, Hannah, Parisa and Danxia resulted in a team forming to work with KNH.
The pantry provides an opportunity for locals to donate food and for anyone to take what they need. It is open 24/7 on the porch of Kensington Neighbourhood House. The pantry also offers personal care and toiletry items, cleaning products, hand sanitiser, face-masks and pet food.
Key principles decided at the outset were to take a test and learn approach, following an iterative process of adapting and responding to communities needs quickly and to engage with the community with hope and trust in capacity of others. The pantry has been embraced by the community and since opening demand has more than tripled.
While the concept is simple, it has taken many hours of collaboration and dedication from the Food Share Pantry team for this community led project to flourish. Establishing guiding principles and long term aims, a Facebook page, relationships with local businesses, stocking, sorting and auditing the pantry, daily visits and regularly collecting bread donated from IGA are just some of the activities involved in managing the pantry that the team have taken on.
KNH was successful in gaining a VicHealth grant which has meant we could bring Danxia on as a paid staff member to coordinate the pantry and build on the ambitions of the pantry. This is to establish a system to offer fresh, local produce from local gardens, build relationships with local businesses and undertake more community consultation.
Groups accessing the pantry include many KHN regulars – seniors and CALD families from Kensington public housing. We have seen many new faces visiting the pantry and have had conversations with a number of new visitors – these have included many asylum seekers, international students (not eligible for many other supports), and those experiencing homelessness who visit the pantry to get through each week. Many of our visitors visit after hours, suggesting a desire for anonymity and potential feelings of stigma associated with seeking support.
While Covid 19 has highlighted the pressing issue of food security, the issue has been experienced locally for many years. We know from local research undertaken in 2017 about the effects of food insecurity on disadvantaged youths from culturally and linguistically diverse communities in Flemington, Kensington and North Melbourne. This work demonstrated the critical food issues experienced locally, particularly for African Australian families, who are up to 16 times more likely to experience food insecurity.
Food is a basic need. It impacts on our mental and physical health, and our social and economic needs. Providing a reliable source of food via the Food Share Pantry supports locals to cover the basics and allows them focus on bigger issues in their lives beyond the day to day of food insecurity.
Thank you to Marti, Jessie, Danxia, Parisa and Hannah for creating a thriving community initiative with us!