Nowadays, community can be virtual. We find communities in comment sections, or on Twitter feeds. We connect through Facebook, share our lives on Instagram, and laugh over TikTok. However, the treasured moments of meeting together in-person will always be valuable.
With coronavirus lockdowns isolating us for two years, it is time to elevate community spirit once again.
Jenny and Claire’s friendship is testament to the power of volunteering with community projects. They have the capacity to turn neighbours into friends, and demonstrate what happens when we work together. Community volunteering ensures that we always have someone to turn to.
Jenny and Claire are here to debunk the doubts and tell you about what you can really expect by supporting your local community through volunteering.
Beginning: “We started in the cupboard!”
Jenny: We started the pantry in the cupboard! We had small deliveries and [left over stock donated] from local supermarkets. We were getting 15 people a day accessing the pantry over four days a week.
In 2020, lockdown happened. We weren’t allowed to continue with the pantry because of the restrictions. As a result, it was looked after temporarily and we saw the need for food increase to 300 deliveries a week. Nowadays, we’re averaging 130 people a week. They queue from 8.30am sometimes; we don’t open until 10am!
It was as though the pandemic highlighted the need for the pantry. It’s not a food bank; it’s a weekly top-up to see you through until the next big shop. You can make a meal or two from what we offer. There’s no criteria, either – anyone can rock up!
Friendship: “This is what happens when communities come together.”
Claire: It’s turned my life around. I’ve been in Cardiff for three years now; I was in London before. It helps me so much. Not just socially, but also with my mental health. During lockdown, we had WhatsApp groups where we’d encourage each other and keep each other going.
It’s knowing that someone is there for you, especially for me. I didn’t really know many people before, and now I know everyone! There are people I talk to and, sometimes, I may not know their name but I know them by sight. It made me feel a part of the community. I never felt part of it until I started coming to the pantry.
The biggest impact for me is seeing what can be done when people come together. Everyone is giving something. Even though we have different lives and commitments, we all chip in together and make it work.
Jenny: We don’t all do just one thing. We all vary our skills, we learn something new all the time. People don’t realise what skills they already have! We often get labelled as “Just Mums” or “Just Dads” when, really, we have so much more to offer. We get to do that with the pantry.
I feel like we brought the community spirit back. We’re breaking down barriers. We have people coming from wider Cardiff, too – Whitchurch, Barry, Grangetown…The pantry is for everyone; the community is everyone.
Community: “We’re a family of misfits!”
Claire: We all stick together. I’m a single parent of three and, even though you meet people here who you wouldn’t usually be friends with, because of the pantry, we all come together. We’re a family of misfits! We all have different circumstances, but we aim for the same thing and we have similar values.
Jenny: When we started, people didn’t want to share anything personal. As time went on, we started building trust with each other. For example, we supported people when they were put on universal credit for the first time. They weren’t getting paid for another five weeks, and they were asking for help. In those circumstances, we’d stick an extra toothpaste in the grocery bag and some extra toilets rolls, just to help see people through until their payment came in.
Support: “We look out for each other.”
Jenny: We learn not to take everyone at face value. We’re all ducks, really; furiously paddling under the water whilst acting calm on the surface! We all have bills, debts, children, families…but we’re a team. We’re stronger together.
We look after each other. We know our regulars and if they don’t show up for a while, we do try to look out for them, making contact where we have consent and it’s appropriate. Sometimes, we find out that they need support; for example, someone we knew had broken their arm and needed some help. We would never have known if it wasn’t for the pantry. Where people need extra help, we signpost to the right support. It’s strengthened my compassion, definitely. You realise you can’t judge anyone.
Claire: You don’t know what’s happened to people to get them in challenging circumstances. It’s not our place to judge. With the extra pair of eyes and ears, we can look out for each other and just get people the help they need. For some folks, this will be the only time they get the chance to speak to people and be with others.
Rewards: “You’ll always get something out of it.”
Jenny: You’ll be surprised at how rewarding it is! You’ll always get something out of it, whether it’s a social life or new skills. It’s so much fun. We go on trips, too. We have a right laugh. It’s like being in school again!
Claire: We want to give back. It’s our shared value. Everyone should have one hot meal a day. Sometimes, people have to choose between feeding their family, or heating their home. No one should have to make that decision.