New community food shop in the battle to feed hungry children

A different and dignified community food shop in Sturminster Newton has fed some 470 hungry people, of which 225 are children in North Dorset since it opened just seven weeks ago.

Struck with the number of people going hungry in the district, which was exacerbated during the first lockdown, Dorset Council and Sturminster Newton county councillor Carole Jones, together with the Blackmore Vale Surgery Group, launched The Vale Pantry.

The initiative is part of Your Local Pantry, a national charity aimed at tackling food poverty.

Pantry co-ordinator Carole said: “During this time it really hit home how people were struggling to make ends meet and put food on the table for the family. Once the worst of the first phase of covid-19 was over, I worked closely with the Blackmore Vale Surgery Group to get the Pantry open and available to any family or person struggling to make ends meet.”

The Vale Pantry is the first rural and only pantry in the South of England and opened on November 5 at 35a Market Place, Sturminster Newton.

And since then it has served more than 4,000 people. Carole said: “Some of the stories we have heard have literally brought us to tears. Food poverty is very real and often missed but living amongst us all.”

“People think that we are in a fairly well-heeled area, but the stories we have heard over the weeks have been heart-breaking. One young mum told us that following lockdown, when her partner lost his hours, they would go without breakfast and lunch just so that the children could eat. Another mum allowed herself one small meal a day – invariably an omelette, but when her son came home from university, through the pantry she was able to provide cooked meals for the both of them. ”

“In the early days it was quite common for someone to break down in tears because they could take food home with them that they could afford and choose themselves.
It truly is the most heart-warming and wonderful project.”

The Vale Pantry is a twist on the traditional food bank as members pay £4.50 to secure a regular, weekly shop including fresh and frozen food, the basic staples, fresh meat, fish and eggs plus tinned foods and cereal.

Membership is open to individuals, couples and young families in North Dorset who might struggle to pay bills or run out of money before the end of the month. The Vale Pantry also works closely with the local food banks to help people before crisis hits or indeed, as they come out of crisis.

Some 25 volunteers help on a regular basis, from collecting some foods, such as milk and household supplies, to organising the Fare Share food deliveries, rotating and sorting stock, working in the shop to taking cardboard to the dump.

On New Year’s Eve, The Grosvenor Hotel in Shaftesbury donated a car full of food, which they were unable to use because of the latest coronavirus restrictions which meant they had to close that night.

Carole said: “I would like to take this opportunity to thank our community wholeheartedly for the support and generosity given since we opened the doors to The Vale Pantry. Our community food shop is feeding around 470 people each week, of which some 225 are children. ”

“Whilst we are based in Sturminster Newton, we serve anyone within the North Dorset area that needs help with food.
Our pantry is a place full of good quality food, but laughter and joy, indeed many of our members tell us their trip in to us is their highlight of the week.
None of this would be possible without the wonderful volunteers who help us and the community who give so generously – both companies, individuals and our lovely members who we have come to know, and finally, of course the Blackmore Vale Partnership Surgery Group, who have enabled this project to get off the ground.”

“We always desperately need household goods, sanitary products and babies’ nappies, which we don’t get from Fare Share and all donations of these, foods and indeed money, would be most welcome and allow us to continue the work we do. We have been assured of our premises until Christmas 2021 by kind agreement of John Roman who owns the property, and it is our hope that we can be sustainable beyond that time. All help gratefully received!”

The Vale Pantry opens twice a week on Thursday evenings between 5pm and 8pm and on Saturday morning between 9am and noon.

Anyone who needs help with food can apply online at: s/member-sign-up and choose Dorset The Vale in the drop down box.

If anyone needs help joining, Carole is available for support over the telephone. You can sign up as a member or as a volunteer at Vale Pantry is at 35a Market Place, Sturminster Newton DT10 1AR
07968 348481

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