10 May 2022

Old bus stop turned street pantry always open to locals in need

| James Coleman
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People at a bus stop

Christina Schwarz (left) and other Ainslie locals keep the pantry stocked. Photo: Ainslie Community Pantry.

One of Canberra’s iconic bus stops has been given a new lease on life as a street-side community pantry, offering food and toiletry staples to those struggling to make ends meet.

The ‘Ainslie Community Pantry’ joins a growing number of resident-run ‘community pantries’ in the suburbs and was established in early 2021.

Founder and local mother of two Christina Schwarz says demand has increased in the past few months as more and more individuals and families feel the cost-of-living pinch.

“Many people want to help their neighbours in need, but they’re not sure how. This gives them that ability.”

Inside the disused bus stop on the corner of Majura Avenue and Officer Crescent in Ainslie, you’ll find two filing cabinets packed with rice, flour, pasta sauce, toilet paper, soap and more, and a notebook for either requests or ‘thank you’ messages.

“Please only take what you need, but give what you can,” Christina says.

“It’s not a shopping spree. It’s to help get by for one to three days, not for a week or month. So far, it’s done extremely well.”

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It all began in the lead up to Christmas 2020, when Christina noticed a rise in the number of posts asking for help on the local ‘Buy Nothing’ Facebook group.

“There were families we knew needed help, so a few of us turned to the discussion of a street pantry and what would work,” she says.

Street pantries currently exist in Ngunnawal, Stirling, Kambah, Dunlop, and Casey, with regular support from local charities such as Helping ACT and Ken Behren’s Helping Hands. However, since Ainslie got in on the action, Christina says both Braddon and O’Connor have lost theirs.

“With those two going, we have seen an increase in traffic. Some are even coming from Dickson and Hackett, so we’re growing into a community pantry for the whole inner-north.”

Two filing cabinets in a bus stop

Together with the bus stop, the two filing cabinets keep the items high and dry. Photo: Ainslie Community Pantry, Facebook.

When Christina reached out to the other pantries with her plans for Ainslie, she noticed how many of them mentioned how hard it was to get off the ground.

“I honestly believe there would be more street pantries if it was easier to build them. Trying to build the pantry itself is hard because of the heavy items it has to accommodate and the weather it has to survive.”

In Christina’s case, she lives around the corner from a disused bus stop, meaning a strong and sheltered structure was already in place. Two filing cabinets – donated by members of the Ainslie Buy Nothing group – provided a non-fixed storage solution.

The pantry is open 24/7 and checked on at least once a day by local volunteers to ensure everything is well stocked and secure. Christina says they are currently looking for a company to provide weather-proof signage so locals can easily spot it.

Filing cabinet filled with food

Volunteers visit the pantry every day, topping it up with donations. Photo: Ainslie Community Pantry, Facebook.

“Preferably, at all times, there is at least something in those drawers,” Christina says.

“You don’t want people to have made their way there only to get there and find nothing.”

Helping ACT, Kambah Bakehouse, Pam’s Pantry and Ngunnawal Street Pantry donate regularly, as do members of Buy Nothing.

Christina describes the community’s reaction to the pantry as “fantastic”.

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“The volunteers often bump into people who are either donating or collecting supplies. They tell us how good it is that such a thing is there and how much it helped them get to the end of the week. We also keep a little album of all the written notes we get.”

She says there is always the potential for vandalism and for “someone to come in and wipe it clean”, but the “positives far outweigh the negatives”.

“By the number of little notes, we have enough anecdotal evidence to know that it is really helping, even if there is risk there.”

To donate, contact the Ainslie Community Pantry via Facebook or email ainsliecommunitypantry@gmail.com.

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