Food pantry throws open its doors

Representatives of the relief agencies gather to launch the donation bin outside Woolworths Arena.

By Danielle Kutchel

After a challenging year, relief agencies from across Cardinia Shire have bonded together to open a new community food pantry, to be located at Living Learning Pakenham.

The partnership includes ADRA, Salvation Army, Follow Bless Collective, Siri Guru Nanak Darbar, PC3 as well as Outlook Community Centre and the Pakenham Men’s Shed.

Members of the community will be able to drop non-perishable items into collection bins, strategically located at supermarkets and at the relief agencies, for donation to the pantry.

Anyone in need of immediate food assistance is able to visit the pantry at Living Learning Pakenham at 6B Henry Street, which will feature signage in multiple different languages. Outlook will help to maintain the pantry and ensure it is fully stocked.

The pantry is set to remain a permanent fixture of the site, to help those doing it tough even after Christmas.

In true community style, the initiative draws on the talents of many. Council’s waste team dropped off donation bins to Living Learning Pakenham to be painted and decorated by younger members the Cardinia shire community with the help of local artist Robert Matheson. The pantry itself was designed and built by the Pakenham Men’s Shed.

Cardinia Shire Council Mayor Councillor Brett Owen joined the team at Living Learning Pakenham on Monday 14 December to kick off the donation drive.

“We know there are people in the Cardinia community who are doing it tough as a result of Covid-19 but one of the positives brought about by the pandemic is the strength shown by the community and the willingness to band together to help others.

“So many of us have loved ones who might be out of work and under financial stress but I’ve been struck by the positivity, empathy and generosity of spirit that shines through even in difficult times.

“One small way the community can get involved and help their neighbour is to add an extra tin or packet to their grocery shop before placing it in one of the food donation bins on their way out of the supermarket. They’ve been so beautifully decorated by our young artists, you can’t miss them!” he added.

Already, donations have been arriving at Living Learning Pakenham, ready to go to those in need.

Amanda Fleming, team leader of the Doorways Program at the Salvation Army, said she was pleased to see the agencies come together to address the community’s needs.

“We’re all different parts of the shire but we’re all coming together to help the vulnerable community,” she said.

Leanne Griffiths from Follow Bless Collective, based in Officer, said the pantry had been a long time coming, with agencies meeting with the council to determine what was needed.

“We’ve all joined together to ensure there’s a community pantry for those who might not feel comfortable to come into an organisation and give details about themselves [to access support],” she said.

Pastor Richard Schoenmaker of PC3 Church, which is just planting in Pakenham, said the church was pleased to be able to partner with its fellow agencies.

“We’re only small, but we’re doing what we can,” he said.

Rebecca Auriant, director at ADRA, said the organisation was “privileged” to work alongside others in their mission to support the most vulnerable in Cardinia Shire. ADRA’s work has been complemented by youth volunteers from Afri-Aus Care, which has provided food support throughout the pandemic.

“It’s great to see our youth volunteering to support their local community,” she said.

Donation bins can be found at Woolworths Arena with other drop off sites to be announced.