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Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a food bank and a food pantry?

Food banks are there to make sure people have food in times of crisis. But food pantries and larders are a bit different. They can help people save on their shopping, freeing up money for other essentials or leisure activities and they are a great way to meet new people and socialise.

Anyone who lives in a neighbourhood served by a Local Pantry or larder can join and for a small weekly subscription of a few pounds, they can choose around £20 to £25 worth of groceries.

Stock is supplied through the food redistribution charity FareShare and local suppliers in each area.

Pantries help people keep a sense of dignity and they’re so much more than a place to go to get food, as I discovered when I visited Portsea Food Pantry recently

John Pounds Centre entrance.

Portsea Pantry is based in the Café at the John Pounds Centre on Queen Street. It’s there every Tuesday, 10am – 12pm and Thursday, 4pm – 6pm

For a weekly subscription of £4, members with post codes beginning PO1 3__ can buy a weekly food shop including fresh fruit and vegetables, tasty treats, and frozen, chilled and tinned goods.

It was a chilly Tuesday morning when I visited Portsea food pantry. I got to the John Pounds Centre around 10.30am, locked my bike up outside and followed the sound of people laughing and chatting enthusiastically.

In the Café there was lots going on. A raffle, a school uniform swap store and a Live Well session was in full swing.

There was also someone showing people how they can make cheap and healthy lunch wraps which they then got to eat.

If you haven’t been to a Live Well session, they offer residents a chance to connect with other support services in the area, face to face.

On this particular day, Vivid Housing, Switched on Portsmouth, Southern Water and Advice Portsmouth were there to help people check that they are getting the right benefits and show them how they can reduce their fuel and utility bills. Southern Water had lots of useful give-aways too!

Free merchandise and leaflets

There was also someone demonstrating to people how they can make cheap and healthy lunchtime wraps, which they then got to eat.

A woman is showing someone how to make a lunch wrap
Two people are browsing shelves of food.

After chatting to some of the services attending the Live Well sessions about the work they do, I wandered over to see what was going on at The Pantry. It’s set up just like a shop with a freezer cabinet full of stuff and shelves stacked high with a variety of tinned goods, jars, cereals, rice, pasta and vegetables.

Pantry members take a ticket and wait for their number to be called out. I noticed that there was a lot of good-humoured banter flying about. A number was called and the person took their turn to choose their shopping, joking that they’d won at bingo.

The Pantry has dedicated shoppers too! These are volunteers who help people with their shopping. They give advice on what meals people can make with the items they choose and how they can make things go further.

Gina Perryman who helped set up the pantry in August 2022, told me that they are also planning to produce recipe cards and meal kits in conjunction with the library to give to pantry members.

I talked to Gina about how she got involved with helping to set up and run Portsea Pantry.

“I moved to Portsea in 1995, over 27 years ago. I’ve always been involved with lots of things, community groups, projects and schemes to help improve things for the people of Portsea.”

She told me that as part of her role at HIVE Portsmouth she helped start the pantry in August 2022 because “We knew that food poverty existed in the area and we’d seen how successful these schemes had been in other areas”

Gina explained that Portsea is one of Portsmouth’s most deprived areas, along with Paulsgrove in the north of the city. She said “We have a lot of food poverty and our local school has a large amount of pupils that get free school meals.”

I asked Gina if there had been any obstacles they’d faced since starting up. She said that as a small community group they rely on donations, volunteers and partners to fill out the shelves. Gina had noticed that donations had declined lately and she thinks this is because more people are feeling the pinch and so not donating food stuffs.

This hadn’t seemed to dampen the lively atmosphere in the Café that day. Gina told me that the pantry serves as a social for many people in the community.

Gina Perryman is sitting at her laptop

David Farr, a Pantry member talked to me about his experience using this valuable service. I asked him how often he used the Pantry.

“I come every Tuesday. The Pantry is very well stocked and I get all the essential bits, stuff that’s expensive in shops like bacon, eggs, tins of food like beans, tomatoes etc. then when I go to the supermarket I don’t have much to get, all I’ve got to get is milk and that. I’m finding it really useful.”

I asked David what he enjoys about coming to Portsea Pantry. He said “Everybody is really friendly here. The staff who run the Pantry are really kind and helpful, they look after you and they’re fair and it’s very well organised. They help you get your shopping and then check out.”

David Farr is smiling

Pantries can help create communities that work together to reduce the risk of crisis happening.

Think of local pantries and larders as food clubs that people can come to all year round. Places where residents come together and as a result, communities grow.

Just look at these benefits:

  1. Members save money on their shopping, freeing up money for other essentials or leisure activities
  2. Members make new friends and meet up with old friends.
  3. Diet improves – most pantries have volunteers that will help members choose healthy options and give them recipes to cook food from scratch.
  4. Member’s physical and mental health improves
  5. Members are often able to access other services that offer support; For example Live Well sessions, Advice Portsmouth, budgeting advice, Cost of Living support officer etc.
  6. Communities are brought together and made stronger

If you want to join Portsea Pantry you can find out more and sign up online

If you are able to donate any food or essential items to Portsea Pantry, you can put them into the donation bins at the John Pounds Centre or go in to the pantry when it’s open on a Tuesday 10-12 or Thursday 4-6pm. You’ll get a warm welcome.

You will also find other ways to help your community either by volunteering or donating money, food or essential items on our Cost of Living hub