Grocery bills are like death and taxes: inevitable but unwelcome.
Imagine being a single mother trying to raise four kids, while working a low-paying job, or relying on government assistance; or a farmer struggling to feed his family and his livestock, buy water, and keep the farm going in drought.
Fortunately, there’s help at hand.
Every Friday, from 1 to 3pm, volunteers at the Northwest Church’s Food Pantry supply cheaper food and household necessities to those in need – starting at $15 a bag, to $40 for three bags.
Pastors Tony and Ruth Stace have run the Food Pantry since January 2017 – at first under Global Care (which runs food pantries in Armidale and Uralla), then under their church.
“We see this as a way of meeting people’s needs,” Ruth said.
“Sometimes through no fault of their own, they find themselves in trouble, and we’d love to help them. We see ourselves as a church that’s in our community, and for our community.”
The Pantry has about 80 people on its books. Ten to 15 customers come to the Pantry every week; some fortnightly, others once a month, or when they’re between jobs. Quite a few are single people or pensioners. All need a Centrelink concession card.
Numbers, the Staces say, have increased with the drought; a couple of farming families have joined up since it’s been dry.
The shelves of the little store are full of everything from cereal, tinned fruit and veg, tea and coffee, to formula for babies, soups, soaps, drinks, medicines, and personal hygiene products.
It’s good quality, too, including Moroccan couscous, Asian curry pastes, gourmet Belgian and Dutch biscuits, and artisan-style crispbreads.
Most of the products are nearing their best-by date, but still perfectly edible. Supermarkets donate the items to Foodbank, Australia’s largest food relief organisation, which then supplies the Food Pantry.
“All I have to do is order the food from them,” Ruth said. “Some weeks, we won’t be able to carry a line of Weetbix or milk; it just depends on what’s been donated as to what we can carry.”
Guyra locals also donate eggs, fruit, and vegetables.
“We’re not deliberately looking for donations,” Tony said, “but rather than throwing it out, it’s better to put it to good use!”
The Pantry’s backbone is a small team of volunteers, four or five rostered on each week.
“They’re a great team,” Ruth said. “They make people feel very welcome, and provide tea and coffee if people want to sit down and have a yarn.”
Stuart and Judy Broad have been with the Pantry since it opened nearly two years ago.
“We volunteer because we just want to serve the people of Guyra, and help those who are in need,” Stuart said.
“It's a service to those in the community who are down and out, or unforeseen circumstances have come their way. As a church and as a couple, we believe in helping those in need.”
“In this day, so many people are unable to meet their ordinary everyday expenses with food and electricity and fuel bills,” Judy said.
Volunteering at the Pantry, they say, is enjoyable and fulfilling – particularly because it’s a social activity.
Customers will often meet their friends here, shop together as a group, and talk over a hot drink.
“It's lovely for people who might be a bit lonely,” Judy said.
“They come in and have a coffee, and a chat. A lot of people do that; some offload, some don't. They just enjoy the chat.”