To say that the coronavirus pandemic has impacted our communities would be an understatement. The repercussions of the virus have extended so far past healthcare, that the economic fragility in households has threatened the wellbeing of families up and down the country, even globally. But there is help, and for one community in Birmingham, this comes in the form of a ‘Social Supermarket’.
Oasis Hub: Foundry and Boulton (OHFaB) have been providing a new service supporting families in the fight against food poverty. The FaB Pantry, mostly run by the community supporters and users, is part of a national scheme, and a move towards a longer-term, sustainable answer beyond Food Banks.
So how does it work? Well firstly, anyone in need is welcome to self-refer to the scheme. Members pay a £4 fee when they visit the supermarket, have the opportunity to browse the shelves for items (staples and lots of fresh items), and leave with roughly £15-£25 worth of groceries each time.
The Pantry relies on donations from larger supermarket chains such as Tesco, M&S and The Coop, as well as donations from Incredible Surplus, the community and associated academies (Oasis Academy Boulton and Oasis Academy Foundry). The pantry volunteers also do their bit to collect items, and fundraise for items – even working months in advance to fund Christmas Hampers by selling raffle tickets at 10p.
It’s really the volunteers that bring the social supermarket to life though. Many are pantry users who feel the desire to give back to the scheme by donating their time, often driven by the sense of inclusivity there. Megan Tucker, the Hub Leader, shared with us the story of Beatrice, a community member who approached her as she was unloading food outside the Hub. She’d seen the queues for the Pantry and was curious to find out what was happening. Beatrice signed up almost immediately, and is now one of their regular volunteers, offering firm and kind support.
“For me personally it’s the way the pantry is run- that we don’t ask too many questions or need proof of financial crisis- dignity is maintained. For that reason it feels just like going to a supermarket but the bonus is paying a small amount for good quality food…Knowing the people I volunteer with live in the same place, gives me confidence that good people exist too in Winston Green.”
Like many of the staff and volunteers at the Hub, Beatrice feels she has found a sense of purpose and fulfilment through the work they do, and it’s no surprise that they feel this way. The Food Pantry is just one part of what the Hub offers, and that alone supports people to supplement their weekly food shop for £4, knowing that the money saved can go towards the essentials of living, and hopefully a release from poverty.
Since the Pantry opened in May 2020, over 350 members have joined. Of these, 86 disclosed that they struggle with the costs of rent, 88 with energy bills and 41 with other essentials. A huge 160 of those members, over half, say they have run out of money for food by the end of the week. This represents 529 adults and 389 children, all from diverse backgrounds and in need of support.
If you’d like to find out more about OHFaB and the FaB Food Pantry, contact Megan Tucker.