On 29 October, a new food project – Your Local Pantry – was opened in Hitchin. Our intern, Jimena De la Fuente, from Notre Dame University in the USA, was at the launch of the pantry and describes her impressions and introduces some of the Pantry’s volunteers:
Upon arrival at the church hall, I was greeted by the wonderful volunteers who set up Your Local Pantry in Hitchin for its grand opening. The atmosphere was incredibly welcoming; I noticed the shelves along the walls were stocked with a variety of foods including organic yogurts, granola, and boxes of rice. Fruits and vegetables were organized at the centre table and meats were kept in the fridge.
The Your Local Pantry network has been established since 2014. Each Pantry is a makeshift grocery store but unique in its aim to provide members with the best shopping experience for affordable prices. Aiming to help alleviate financial burdens, Your Local Pantry offers its members a selection of healthy foods for lower prices as well as the opportunity to form new relationships and build a community once a week. For the nominal price of £4, members can take home ten items and any fresh produce of their choosing. The money collected will then be invested in the restock of food for the next week. Members are encouraged to volunteer at their local pantry as this service is completely volunteer and member-led.
Before opening the doors, the food was blessed by a local priest. I was amazed at the organization and coordination of the site. While working the register, I observed as the members came in and were greeted by smiling faces and helped to select their items. Trolleys were provided as well as refrigerator bags and membership cards. The volunteers happily made conversation with each customer. In contrast to a food bank, the Hitchin Pantry is more like a grocery store: providing a personal and entirely unique shopping experience to its members for a small price.
As a foreign student from America, I was so pleased to visit this local service as it gave me an insight into the community engagement in Hitchin. While working, I had the opportunity to speak with some volunteers and ask them questions about their reasons for volunteering. Each volunteer shared their stories with me and I was completely inspired by their words:
Liz had heard about the pantry from her son’s school, however, she had also learned about the opening of the pantry because she had previously been receiving food parcels during the pandemic.
Liz stated that “the parcels were such a blessing” and “even my kids enjoyed opening the mystery magic parcel” every week. When asked why she wanted to volunteer at the pantry she said that a service like this makes “such a big difference in your life” and “it feels like you become part of something.”
Another volunteer who also received food parcels mentioned that she hopes to get nothing in return due to her belief in using her talents in the service of others. As a single parent, she says “being a member of the Hitchin Pantry is right because it is a good cause and has a significant purpose.”
The last volunteer I spoke with, Hannah, has been passionate about volunteering from a young age. She states that she fell in love with volunteering when her father got sick and she was able to help others. During the pandemic, she had done a simple service as a listening volunteer but it felt like it made such an impact on the other person’s life. Hannah loves helping at the Pantry because “it’s so much more empowering to the community than the food parcels.” She says “my life is absolutely happier when I am volunteering.”
Hearing about the impact of these services in local communities and how they brought people together was truly inspiring and something to think about when I return home.