20 February 2024

Canberra's street pantries turn to used cans and bottles for support

| James Coleman
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Amy Blain

Amy Blain is one of several volunteers in the Ainslie Buy Nothing Group. Photo: James Coleman.

Canberra’s street pantries have had to turn to another source of income as the rising cost of living threatens donations.

The Ainslie Buy Nothing Group set up the first ‘pantry’ in a disused bus shelter on the corner of Majura Avenue and Officer Crescent in response to the need for local food support. Since then, the ‘Inner North Pantry Network’ has also expanded to Braddon, O’Connor and Watson.

Volunteer Amy Blain says it operates on a “give what you can, take what you need” basis, with neighbours helping neighbours, but the supplies “never last long”.

“Like this will go within an hour,” she says of the fruit and vegetables she’s just arranged on top of one of the repurposed filing cabinets.

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To make matters worse, she says fewer neighbours can give at the moment.

“We’ve seen a drop in donations of all kinds. We used to have some regular people who drop us a lot, and that’s all tailed off.”

About two years ago, they devised a plan to help by dipping into the ACT Government’s ‘Container Deposit Scheme”.

“One of our group members suggested that we ask the community to support the pantry by donating their 10-cent-ers, and this has been our one constant funding stream,” Amy says.

Bus shelter

The Ainslie Community Pantry is located on the corner of Majura Avenue and Officer Crescent in Ainslie. Photo: James Coleman.

The group has established two drop-off points where locals can drop off their empty drink bottles and cans, and Amy also picks up containers from neighbours and takes them all to Dickson Express Drop Point.

More than $3600 has been raised through the ACT CDS, allowing the group to spend $50 per week on fresh fruit and vegetables from Box Divvy Watson.

“I think it’s so smart because we’re able to use your waste and get money from it, and we find people will often give us the cans even if they won’t give us money.”

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As of this year, local kids are helping out, too. The North Ainslie Primary School has started collecting cans and bottles for its local street pantry, and so far they’ve cashed in 997 containers, raising nearly $100.

Not only is it helpful news for the donations, but it’s also one of the few organisations to have partnered with a street pantry.

Amy says the Inner North Pantry Network struggles to attract attention from businesses, workplaces and other organisations because it’s not a registered charity.

“Businesses, supermarkets and food charities will only give to charities, and I think that’s not very helpful when you’re looking to build community. There should be other options.”

Food supplies

The pantry works on a ‘take what you need, give what you can’ system. Photo: James Coleman.

Over the years, items have been sourced from a food rescue charity, but Amy says the quality was lacking.

“We decided to stop getting [rescue food] because the stuff is so bad, like these really awful bags of lettuce no one is going to eat. We are very much at the bottom of the charity food system and we are treated as much.”

Helping ACT has been one exception, delivering donated goods to the pantries, but more frequently, Pam’s Pantry.

Amy would love to eventually have the bus shelter relocated to the opposite side of the road – where there’s a small car park – and accompanied by a community garden.

“We’d love to create a really nice community garden and have people paid to grow and care for it.”

Visit the Ainslie Community Pantry Facebook page for more information or to donate.

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are there any other community pantry locations doing this? I’d love to donate my bottles and cans but don’t often go Northside

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