BY ALEC SMART
The massive surge in high-rise apartment construction in inner-west Sydney has created a significant hike in rental prices as more people flock to live near employment hubs. This, along with substantial increases in household electricity charges, the costs of medical services and products, kids’ school tuition fees, fuel prices and common necessities, means many low-income people – especially pensioners and welfare recipients – are struggling to pay their bills.
However, while eating out might be beyond the means of many low-income people, thanks to food cooperatives like the Food Pantry in Marrickville, high-quality, tasty and nutritious food is affordable.
Situated in Addison Road Community (Addi Rd) in north-eastern Marrickville, it is a low-cost supermarket that provides groceries, fruit and vegetables to over 500 customers a week.
Joanne Ryan, Partnerships Manager, explained to City Hub: “Food Pantry is run by volunteers. We buy from the Foodbank and accept donations of stock that is either close to its use-by date or near its ‘best before’ date from a number of partners, including Barilla, IGA and QE. We also receive donations from individual members of the community.”
Food Pantry was founded in 2015 with a grant from the NSW Environment Protection Agency (EPA) in response to a research paper by the Addison Road Community Organisation (ARCCO). This revealed that food insecurity in the Inner West was a significant and increasing issue.
Food Pantry launched in a 20sqm shipping container set up in the Addi Rd carpark.
“Funds from the EPA also enabled Addison Road to purchase a vehicle to collect food donations, and fridges to store donated food,” said Ms Ryan.
Demand for the service grew substantially, so in 2017 the community supermarket relocated to hut 9 on the Addi Rd estate, at 60sqm, treble the size of the shipping container. “At that point we were selling about $1,500 worth of food a week,” Ms Ryan revealed, “and had about 70 customers over three days.”
Then, in early 2019, now catering to over 500 customers a week, they moved into the ARCCO building, hut 1, which will expand to 100sqm after renovations.
Ms Ryan explained to City Hub: “The purpose of the Food Pantry from the beginning has been twofold: to rescue perfectly good food from going to landfill, and to make this available to individuals and families in the local community experiencing food insecurity.”
The Food Pantry is staffed by 25 volunteers and is open 12 hours a week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Amanda Noble, a Food Pantry shopper, told City Hub: “I’m on a pension, a single mum to two kids. I began using it again recently for the first time in about 8 months and was really amazed at the difference in things available and the quality. I spent $80 and came out with 3 bags. Some items normally considered ‘luxury’ were available at a fraction of the price. Makes a huge difference when you are living from hand to mouth.”
“We bring in foodstuffs that cater to a variety of dietary requirements,” said Ms Ryan, “including vegan, halal and gluten-free. We’re trying to modify our range so that it appeals to a wider community.
“We also provide a mobile food pantry service to provide food relief in other areas of Sydney where there is a high level of food insecurity.
Food for thought
There is also a ‘Vege-Table Monday’: “This is an initiative with Foodbank NSW and ACT,” Ms Ryan said. “Every Monday morning, they deliver about 400-600 kg of fruit and veg to us and we make it available to the local community for $2 per bag.
“Our clients include some people who are budget-conscious shoppers but mostly people who are unemployed and relying on New Start and Youth Allowance; underemployed – relying on casual, part time and temporary work; relying on the minimum wage; on a disability pension, or their carers; students; refugees and asylum seekers (many of whom have no work rights); and aged pensioners.
“Addison Road Community Centre was recently awarded a grant from Inner west Council to refurbish the kitchen in the Gumbramorra Hall. This will provide an opportunity for Food Pantry customers to learn how to make tasty, nutritious meals using produce from the Food Pantry, and also from the community gardens on site. We also hope to be able to run bottling and pickling classes, using our excess fruit and vegetables so this doesn’t go to waste.
“Combining the Food Pantry, Mobile Food Pantry and Vege-Table Monday programs, ARCCO is providing food relief to about 1500-1800 individuals per week. Our numbers are increasing, and we are being approached by services in other areas of Sydney to provide a mobile food pantry service to their local community.”