A new community supermarket set up by the Catholic Church is offering a lifeline to hard-pressed families struggling with the cost of their weekly shop.
40 families in Hitchin are the first members of an exciting new venture – The Hitchin Pantry – which launched on Friday 29th October. The Hitchin Pantry is a community supermarket, which allows its members to do a weekly shop for their family, whilst keeping the bill at a fixed, affordable price.
During the pandemic, the number of families unable to afford adequate food, rose by as much as 250 pre cent according to a report by the Food Standards Agency. This included families in Hitchin, Letchworth and sounding areas some of whom were supported by weekly food deliveries from the Roman Catholic Parish of Our Lady Immaculate and St Andrew and Feed Up Warm Up. But hand-outs like this do not allow people choice and can be stigmatising.
The new community Pantry gives members the chance to shop with choice and dignity. For just £4 a week they can choose a certain number of fresh, chilled and cupboard items, and as much fresh fruit and vegetables as they can carry.
The Hitchin Pantry has been set up by the Catholic Church with partner organisations Caritas Westminster and Feed Up Warm Up, which is a local homeless charity that has operated out of the Parish for several years.
Liz Wills, local resident and Development Worker for Caritas Westminster explains:
“At the beginning of the pandemic we started delivering hampers of food to around 40 families a week – in total we have provided over 3,000 parcels to people who had been directly and financially impacted by the pandemic. We are now ready to move from a “hand-out” to a “hand-up” model. At a time of uncertainty, the fixed rate of £4 a week for a weekly shop will be a great help to members of the Hitchin Pantry, allowing them to buy a few other of life’s essentials or simply pay their bills and heat their homes properly.”
The Hitchin Pantry, which operates out of the newly furbished Scout Hut at the church of Our Lady Immaculate and St Andrew, was officially opened on Friday 29th October by Bishop Paul McAleenan.
“The Hitchin Pantry is real community in operation. It presents an atmosphere and environment where people don’t feel they are being watched or judged, but are given space to shop as they would in any supermarket and have access to top quality provisions. Here there is no sense of any distinction between donor or helper or beneficiary, instead there is a sense of all being together for worthy cause.”Bishop Paul McAleenan, auxiliary Bishop of Westminster</cite.
One member of the new Pantry said,
“I came to the Pantry today and it was amazing, really good choice in food and the helpers were so lovely. I am due to give up work soon as I am heavily pregnant but I am not entitled to maternity pay so the Pantry will be a God send to me.”
Another new member recommended the Pantry on Facebook writing,
“I visited the Pantry today for the first time. Wow what a great experience. Really friendly staff and calm atmosphere. Had a live singer playing his guitar. I normally can’t go shopping with my middle child due to his ADHD but the staff made it such a great experience for myself and my children. Can’t wait to go again. Selection of food is amazing too. Amazing thing to have so close to where I live. Thank you to all staff who made my shopping experience a relaxed one. You’re definitely angels sent from heaven.”
The Hitchin Pantry is more than an affordable supermarket – it is a community space, where members can stop for a cup of tea and a chat. Volunteers will be trained to provide information on where members can get further support for issues affecting them, such as benefits, debt or housing issues.
Liz Wills said,
“We are extremely grateful for all our volunteers, some of whom used to help with the delivery of the food parcels, and others who have recently come forward. We would also like to thank the Settle Housing Association whose staff volunteered to refurbish the well-loved Scout Hut, making it a welcoming space for us and also for the continued support of our partners Feed Up Warm Up and Caritas Westminster.”
The Hitchin Pantry is part of the Your Local Pantry network supported by Church Action Against Poverty, and the first such Pantry run by a parish in the Diocese of Westminster. There are an estimated 250 other food projects (such as food banks) run or supported by parishes and schools in the Diocese of Westminster, and Caritas Westminster is exploring ways of ensuring these projects help people out of their difficult situations, rather than just providing hand-outs.
One way we are doing this is by running Firm Foundations, a year long bespoke programme designed to support churches, schools and community projects to build financially resilient communities through sustainable initiatives, and to reach those who are most marginalised. On the 25th November, Caritas Westminster will be running an information session about the programme, which you can register for here.
Commenting on the project, Joseph Kelly of www.thecatholicnetwork.co.uk praised the Church for “putting its boots on the ground” to help struggling families.
“This is a prime example of what our Catholic Church does best – applying Gospel values and concern for one’s neighbour to incredibly practical and well thought-out initiatives that make a real difference in people’s lives,” said Mr Kelly.
“It’s a real model for other parishes to follow,” he added.
Visit the Caritas Westminster website: https://www.caritaswestminster.org.uk
Photo credit: Marcin Mazur/CBCEW.org.uk