Gareth Brown Funding and Partnership Coordinator at Smethwick Church Action Network 29th June 2021 Blog Share Tweet Photo by Aaron Doucett on Unsplash The last twelve months have shown that there is sadly a place for food banks and emergency provision in Smethwick, but we know that however hard we try there can be a stigma about having to rely on a food bank. We firmly believe that what we should seek to provide dignity and choice to people where we can. That’s why we at Smethwick Church Action Network developed not just a traditional food bank, but a wider offer to local people including an allotment, a community café, cooking and shopping lessons. And that’s why we’ve also set up a pantry, a sort of “move-on option” for food bank users. Pantries are membership-based food clubs. They enable people to access food at a small fraction of the supermarket price, freeing up more money for other essential costs such as rent and utilities. The weekly fee at Smethwick is £4.00 and for that, members can choose ten items with a total value of around £20. Pantries are part of a journey to help people move beyond food bank use, or perhaps limit reliance on food banks. It gives people more control, more choice over what they buy. We are still reliant on the brilliant support from Fairshare, the Co-op Group and other retail outlets. Those relationships donate surplus food which reduces waste and means that we can put affordable food in the hands of people who are struggling financially. Backed by the local Church Action Network, we benefit from their consideration and organisational prowess, but the one thing that we are short of – in common with food banks, community fridges and other food poverty initiatives – is volunteers. If you are in a position to help and live near Smethwick please get in touch – if you live elsewhere do have a look to see if you have a nearby food poverty initiative and ask them about the possibility of helping as a volunteer. Practical support makes a real difference. If you’re keen to know more but perhaps not ready to offer to volunteer, why not come to the Co-op Party Zoom, where you’ll hear from myself and others providing community fridges across the country.