People from across the Cherwell district are accessing more help from food banks and support and donations are needed to keep them going.
A community food project that opened at the beginning of January has become a lifeline for local people in Heyford Park, but needs donations and volunteers to continue to meet their needs.
Heyford Park Pantry provides food bank services for anyone in the local area who needs support. Sarah Ratcliffe from the pantry told us: “There is still a stigma around using food banks and we want to change that. Already 20 families a week are using our service with more to follow. Every week on our FaceBook page we share details of the food that we need and people donate whatever they can. It has been amazing. We are here for everyone, families and single people – anyone who needs help.”
Sarah and the team of more than ten volunteers pack food parcels with tinned and fresh produce each week, and work in partnership with SOFEA, the community larder project based in Didcot.
She added: “This is just the beginning and we really hope the project will continue and grow into a community larder in the future, that’s how we will become sustainable. The pantry was up and running within 14 days which is a massive achievement and we really hope it will go from strength to strength.”
The Heyford Park Pantry is open from 11.00am-12.30pm and 5.30pm-7pm on Fridays and from 12noon-2pm on Saturdays at the Community Centre in Brice Road.
In Kidlington, The Cherwell Larder is open on Fridays at Exeter Hall. “It’s not about the immediate need to eat, it’s more about a long-term goal to nurture one another.” Says Cherwell Larder founder and waste food champion Emily Connally, who together with hundreds of volunteers has so far provided food for more than 980 people across the Cherwell district and saved 50 tons of food from going to waste.
The Cherwell Larder was launched in March 2020, in direct response to the local needs of families who were being hit hard by COVID closures and shortages at local shops. Since then, the project has been open at Exeter Hall in Kidlington on Friday afternoons and exists to feed the community and eliminate food waste.
Emily told us: “Since last March we have now saved at least 50 tons of fresh food from landfill, and long term that’s really want this is about. We are helping people in need by providing access to surplus food and produce, in this way we are doing much more than feeding people: we are also going greener.
“We also feel it isn’t enough to feed a person, we really must look to help lifting one another up long term. To that end Cherwell Collective has offered a few mini-courses in cooking and food waste reduction such as pumpkin carve and cook activities and how to love holiday leftovers, and are extending this to full course offerings as soon as the lockdown is lifted. We are partnered with other groups that help people grow their own food such as Harvest @ Home, and together we provide a more well-rounded solution than a traditional food bank. It’s not about the immediate need to eat, it’s more about a long-term goal to nurture one another.”
The larder is open to everyone and is there to fill the gaps between shops.
Emily added: “We are not means tested and we are available for everyone, with priority for people in the Cherwell District. We provide surplus food to help fill the gaps between shops. We provide pet food, and non-food essentials such as toiletries, loo roll, cleaning supplies, clothing, and toys, all thanks to our amazing donors. We also signpost people to other services if they need more support than we offer.”
Over 980 people have signed up for Cherwell Larder, and many regularly attend the project’s weekly food waste marketplace. The larder is also supporting people sleeping rough.
Emily added that demand for the service is increasing all the time. “On April 4 2020 we had 291 people signed up for deliveries, and now that number is growing all the time. We are friends feeding friends. As an unincorporated community group, our infrastructure and technical and administrative support is facilitated by the Cherwell Collective, CiC (community interest company). We are supplied with produce and supplies by Oxford Food Bank and SOFEA, and many local councils support us with small grants.”
The Cherwell Larder has been given the use of facilities by Kidlington Parish Council and The Littlebury Hotel, Bicester. TVR Self-Drive provides a regular van for distribution to Bicester.
Emily added: “We are run by volunteers, almost 200 people have helped us at one point or another, but we are also a cooperative model and many of our core volunteers are also users of the larder. We need more volunteers to help on Fridays, this is when we pack produce during late morning and early afternoon and we stock our marketplace and load the cars for deliveries during mid-late afternoon. We are also seeking accountants to help us with bookkeeping and budget records, volunteers to help us grow food, chefs to help design meal kits, builders to help us with a long-term storage unit refurb, and people to make calls and check in on our users who have been isolating for many, many months now. If people can share their expertise, their skills, their surplus, or of course, a bit of change, it all makes a difference.”
The best way to access Cherwell Larder’s service is to sign up here: https://forms.gle/rL1BhhiE5cpDyXfs5.
Emily added: “We are fairly busy at the moment with the new lockdown, especially given the level of the outbreak, so we need people to sign up, rather than just turn up, in order to be sure we have enough food from our suppliers and time to restock between visitors.”