It can be hard to imagine the scale of the food security crisis that has grown from COVID-19. Yet even here, in the relatively affluent suburb of Burwood in Sydney’s inner west, St Paul’s Parish Pantry operates a service where demand now far outstrips supply.
The Parish Pantry is a local community outreach program that provides free grocery items to vulnerable community members, some of them homeless. But the benefits extend beyond the food says Rosemary King, Lay Minister at St Paul's Anglican Church Burwood: “It’s a place for people to have a chat with the our volunteers, share their issues and frustrations and receive assistance with other services too.” Social connection working hand-in-hand with food supply to break the cycle of poverty.
The doors of the pantry are open to anyone who needs some help to get by, which is just as well. In recent weeks as the COVID-19 crisis has unfolded, Rosemary says demand from "ordinary Australians" has tripled. “We’ve gone from helping about 100 people a week to about 350, mostly young adults and seniors. They’re out of work and desperate to access food.”
Prior to the pandemic, the Parish Pantry largely relied on food donations from church parishioners and bread from a local bakery. “But the bakery has had to close and we can no longer keep up with the demand which is why we reached out to Sanitarium to ask for help. We are so grateful for the donation of Weet-Bix and So Good you’ve been able to provide,” she said.
The story at St Paul’s Parish Pantry is being replicated countless times over at volunteer-run community pantries across Australia. They rely on the generosity of their volunteers to operate, some of them little more fortunate than the people they serve, but all driven by the passion to help their fellow Australian. They are living proof that tough times don’t last forever, and that sometimes people just need a little help for a little while.
Community pantries are at the frontline of this food security crisis. They can access food from agencies like Foodbank, OzHarvest and Second Bite, but right now they need more. If you can donate non-perishable food or your time, try contacting your nearest charity or community food pantry in your local area.
Jane Cordina (below) is a member of the parish and volunteers one day a week to help in many and varied ways, especially with organising and packing food hampers.