Amidst the relentless rise in food prices, Southampton City Mission’s inventive pantry project offers a lifeline to families in the SO18 2 area. Situated in Townhill Park’s community centre every Thursday from 10 am to 12:30 pm, the pantry provides an exclusive membership at £5 per visit, allowing residents to acquire a selection of 13 food items, including meat or fish, for the nominal fee.
For many, including a 35-year-old mother of two, the pantry has become an indispensable resource. Forced to leave her job as a carer due to back issues, she now seeks employment around her children’s school hours. Initially hesitant, she now frequents the marketplace, finding not only affordability but also a sense of community. “I didn’t want to seem desperate, but at the same time, you can’t not come here. It’s really, really good, and everyone is so friendly. You can’t go wrong.”
Operating on a unique colour-coded system simplifies the shopping process. Blue for meat and fish, red for pizza, ready meals, bacon, and eggs; orange for milk, chips, frozen, and tinned food; and green for fresh fruits and vegetables. A £5 note provides a choice of one blue item, two red, five orange, and five green, delivering approximately £20 to £25 worth of groceries.
The exceptional value is emphasized by the pantry’s manager. “For £5, you get around £20 to £25 worth of food.” The service’s popularity is evident, with 15 people on the waiting list and similar demand at other city marketplaces.
Originally designed to offer support for a limited duration, the pantry’s purpose has evolved due to the persistent rise in the cost of living. “This is about building a sense of community, people getting to know each other. Some people are neighbours, but they didn’t know each other before coming here.”
Voices from different backgrounds echo approval. A 42-year-old father of two emphasizes the impact of increasing costs on his family’s budget. Despite a proactive approach, incorporating coupons and bulk buying, he acknowledges the rising strain. “Living on a single salary, we’re trying to be as efficient as we can with the money we have as things get more expensive.”
International voices, such as a man who works night shifts at a local warehouse, appreciate the affordability of the pantry. “It’s really good, it’s really cheap,” he states. With his partner employed part-time, the pantry has become an invaluable resource for their family.
A 69-year-old retired courier driver echoes the sentiment, emphasizing that the pantry “helps everybody out.” To reciprocate, he volunteers when deliveries arrive, showcasing the community spirit that the pantry fosters.
The pantry’s unique structure, where individuals shop one at a time, encourages interactions among shoppers. While waiting for their turn, which can range from 20 minutes to an hour, patrons share a cup of tea or coffee in a welcoming atmosphere. Volunteers, who have familiarized themselves with everyone’s name and circumstances, provide more than just assistance with groceries.
The team functions as support workers, offering a listening ear and valuable advice. For those in need, the pantry transcends its role as a mere provider of goods. A volunteer was recently seen consoling a tearful woman overwhelmed by financial pressures. Such incidents underscore that places like the pantry are vital safe spaces where individuals can find solace and support beyond the groceries they take home.
In a time of economic challenges, Southampton’s community pantry stands as a beacon, not only for affordability but for the sense of community it cultivates, proving that compassion and support are as essential as the groceries themselves.