Volunteering in a Community Larder during a Global Pandemic

Monday 2 November 2020

I've been involved in The Haven in Stonehaven since it was purely a concept, attended it's opening winter solstice event in December 2017 and even got roped into becoming a Board Member by my good friend, Keeper of the Keys at The Haven, Julia Morton. I've attended yoga classes, sound baths, a pop up cafe, wellbeing festival, a co-working day and more. But in the last 7 months all that has changed and now my involvement is that of a volunteer in a community larder during a global pandemic

Back at the start of May when I was still enthusiastically partaking my allocated once a day outdoor exercise session, I received a call from Julia whilst I was out running. With my board member hat on she asked me what did I think of the idea of setting up some sort of 'covid support food larder thing' in the yoga studio. Apparently I was enthusiastic about the idea as were the other board members, so in an unexpected twist (ain't 2020 just full of those?!) our existing wellbeing remit expanded to include food insecurity. 

Things swung into motion full speed ahead behind the scenes and the doors to the larder opened on the 18th of May. I watched the first week unfold on social media and from afar donated some items. However at this point 10 weeks into lockdown I hadn't left my own village and the neighbouring town of Stonehaven seemed a very long way away despite being less than a 10 minute drive. But I felt as a board member and as someone with strong views that no one in our community should go hungry, the very least I could do was pull on my big girl pants and go visit. 

A Community Larder is many things but it is NOT a Food Bank. If everyone uses it then everyone feels comfortable using it. The best way you can support a community larder is to use it, even if you believe you do not need to. 

  • A place for food and other essentials (eg toiletries, sanitary products, baby items, cleaning products, pet food) we also have face masks and teddies
  • Open and welcomes EVERYONE (children very welcome)
  • No referral is required and no details have to be given to access the larder
  • Visitors have the ability to choose exactly what items they require
  • No limitations on frequency or number of visits

I was inspired and humbled by what I saw, heard and experienced first hand. As a result I shared my visit on my social media channels, signed up to officially be a Haven Helper volunteer in the Larder and found myself agreeing to be interviewed by Mearns FM about what the Community Larder was. Despite at this point still not being 100% sure myself! 

Since the start of June I've been showing up for my shift every Monday morning (with a couple of weeks off for good behaviour). It's become part of my weekly routine and has been a great boost to my own mental health, forcing me to get out of the house and doing something worthwhile. The make up of visitors to the larder and how it has used has certainly changed over the weeks. To begin with the number of visitors was slow and steady with a relatively balanced amount of those donating what they could and those taking what they needed. As the weeks progressed we saw more new faces and rather than taking a few items as a top up it was clear that many were increasingly using the larder as a primary source of food. Some people wanted to chat. Others wanted to get in and out as quickly as they could. Some were keen and open to suggestions of new recipes and produce to try, others were on the lookout for tried and tested favorites such as Pot Noodles, Fray Bentos Pies and Oxtail Soup. 

There is no 'typical customer' at the larder. Old people, young people, families, couples, single parents. Many people who by their own admission would never have thought they would be struggling with food insecurity. There have been tears of joy, tears of despair, stories told, experiences shared but throughout it all there is no judgement and no questions asked. 

Everyone should be able to eat good, clean and fair food. Something wholesome and filling, something eaten through choice, rather than a choice between charity or hunger. We should also think about Food Dignity: the ability to cook something of your choice for yourself or those that you love, using something in your fridge or your cupboard.
Slow Food in the UK

Along the way I've used my Foodie Quine channels to try and help spread the word on social media. This has ranged from doing Facebook and Instagram lives from the larder, encouraging my followers to visit and to use the larder in a way that works for them, asking food businesses I'm working with if they could make a donation in kind to the larder, suggesting that local hospitality businesses donate food that would go out of date during lockdown and generally shouting about the larder and our weekly wish lists to whomever would listen whenever I get the opportunity. Clearly only a small number of my followers are in the geographical catchment area so hopefully I haven't bored too many of them with my numerous updates over the weeks and months. Hopefully it might have inspired folks to look into what's happening in their own area with regards to the rising levels of food insecurity.

One of the primary roles of the larder in addition to food insecurity is the reduction of food waste. As such from the outset we encouraged everyone to use the larder, not just those who felt they needed to. This also helps to take away any stigma, shame or guilt. Working with CFINE and Fareshare we have access to surplus produce from supermarkets that would otherwise go to waste. We encourage visitors to the larder to take some of these abundant items from us and swap them out for others on our wish list providing much needed variety to what we are able to offer. 

Towards the end of July it became apparent that we could expand a partnership with the local Co-op's and help reduce food waste further if in addition to ambient produce we also had the facility to store chilled produce. For that to work we needed a large glass fronted fridge. As the resident foodie on the board I was asked to put out some feelers as to where we could source one. I really didn't hold out all that much hope but the stars aligned and we fell heir to not one but two fridges that had been previously used by The Archie Foundation when they ran a cafe in the Bon Accord Centre. Third sector partnership working at it's best. 

I have relished the chance to 'play shops' in the larder. Having never worked in retail, stacking shelves has been a whole new experience for me. I've built friendships within the awesome 'Mange Tout Monday' shift and the wider group of Haven Helpers (even though I've only ever met most of them on Zoom). I'm proud to be part of the team that has brought the larder to fruition and adapted and responded to community need. Stepping up, dreaming, thinking and acting big when the status quo (and covid) is against you isn't easy but the larder has done that and exposed food insecurity issues in our community which have often been brushed under the carpet. Food poverty most certainly does exist in Stonehaven and surrounds and is only going to get worse.

The Haven Community Larder
How it started Vs How it's going
12th May - 30th October

Local businesses, schools and community members have very generously kept the larder well stocked over the past few months but we are now at a pivotal make or break point. Just like many of our visitors The Haven is now facing the stark financial reality of the pandemic. Before covid, we were a community wellbeing social enterprise generating our own income and on the road to sustainability. During lockdown we used our reserves to support the community however to use a pertinent analogy the cupboard is now bare and as the Larder occupies our main space we are unable to generate income.

We are crowdfunding for 6 months operational expenses to keep our doors open for the people in our community who now depend upon and trust us. With a second peak and further potential lockdown now is not the time to say goodbye. 

Please take five minutes to watch our crowdfunder video and help us keep the Stonehaven Community Larder doors open if you can. 

Mony a mickle maks a muckle and every single donation really does make a difference. 

Donate to 
The Haven Community Larder Crowdfunder

If you aren't able to support us financially you can still help by liking and sharing our social media posts. 

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