When we run a food collection drive, it is useful to reflect on the role an agency like Woden Community Service (WCS) plays in alleviating the food insecurity of people in the community. Should we focus only on giving food, or offer other services as well? Are we also advocating more broadly to reduce poverty in our community?
Providing food as emergency relief for those struggling financially has been a long-standing activity of basic welfare assistance. The Little Pantry alleviates food insecurity and provides people in our community an easy way to help others. In the first three months of this year, The Little Pantry provided support to 130 individuals and families. By adding a few extra items to a shopping trolley, essential help is given.
Lack of access to food may be a symptom, rather than a cause. The underlying issue could be homelessness, disability, mental health challenges, poverty, substance abuse or any combination of such issues. Unfortunately, we live in a city with one of the highest costs of living where housing affordability is impossible for many people.
We believe that wherever possible we should provide additional services for those in need. For example, when Linda* began accessing The Little Pantry to seek food, she was socially isolated and very lonely. She had limited contact with her family and no friends in Canberra. Linda struggles with her mental health, but she was resistant to seeking support due to bad experiences with services in the past.
Through contact with The Little Pantry, Linda developed a positive rapport with a WCS staff member. After a year of support, Linda agreed to attend a counselling service. Through counselling, Linda took the vital step to access social supports and joined social groups organised by the WCS.
As in Linda’s case, WCS reaches out to people accessing The Little Pantry by also offering them emergency childcare, family support, youth support, referrals to housing services and more. WCS staff also respect the dignity and pride of individuals who simply want to come to The Little Pantry and take the food they need and nothing else.
WCS cannot run a service like The Little Pantry without advocating to change economic and social inequities in the community. WCS staff strive to work on committees, comment in the media and contribute to government submissions attempting to alleviate poverty. We are actively involved in the Anti-Poverty Week campaign from 13-19 October. Alongside agencies like the ACT Council of Social Service our vital goal of a poverty free society is one we must never lose sight of.
The generous donations of food items to WCS’s The Little Pantry is a highlight for many community members each month. Shoppers at Westfield Woden stop to donate items, knowing it is going to a person or family in need.
The Little Pantry is a reminder to WCS that we have a wonderful, generous local community who support our work. In turn, WCS will continue to advocate for and work with people most in need.
Jenny Kitchin is the CEO of Woden Community Service, a not-for-profit organisation, employing more than 390 staff with an active volunteer program.
*Name changed to protect privacy.