Arriving at the Church of Christ in Riddings to visit community organisation Oscari, we wandered inside to find a hive of activity.
Excitement was building as the team anticipated an upcoming delivery of food to stock up the community pantry.
With the increasing cost of living crisis making life difficult for so many people, the community pantry – which is only five weeks old – is offering a lifeline to local people who would otherwise struggle to feed their families.
It’s the latest idea from Oscari which was set up in 2016 and also runs a weekly craft session as well as offering a general safe and open space for people suffering from social isolation.
The organisation is run by 10 passionate volunteers and as the shipment of food arrives they happily gather round, chatting and laughing, ready to ferry boxes from one end of the church to the other.
A passion for helping the community
We grab a quick five minutes amongst the excitement to chat to Tracy, who talks enthusiastically about Oscari’s background, the work and future hopes. She volunteered with Oscari in their community café back in 2016 and became more involved in the running of it at the start of 2022 after the organisation went through a period of closure.
She explains: “Because we’re in a really deprived area, there’s a distinct lack of community activities in the area. Since January we’ve redecorated front to back, got a craft group up and running and we’re running the food bank again alongside the community pantry.
“I absolutely love it. I worked out in January or February we did about 160 hours in a week between us. We’re giving up our time because we are so passionate about supporting the community.
“None of us has formal training, it’s what we’ve picked up. We’ve all lived through different things, so it all comes together and it’s like wow, we’ve got all this experience to help people.”
Community pantry vs food banks
As we take a look around the community pantry, we bump into Scott who volunteers his time to help out (and coincidentally is a Jog Derbyshire leader too!). Having relied on foodbanks himself in the past he’s really invested in the concept.
He told us: “The problem with food banks is you lose your dignity as a person. No matter who you are or where you go your head always drops when you go to a food bank. That feeling of you can’t provide for yourself and your family. That is really, really down heartening.
“The idea of a food pantry is everyone pays into it but you get a lot more out. So in effect, you could say it’s a foodbank but you’re buying your shopping.”
Demand has been high since the pantry opened with queues down the road and 100 people signed up in the first week. For Oscari, keeping up with the demand, alongside the need for funding and the rising living costs is a challenge.
Scott said: “That’s the problem with trying to sustain everything and the more prices go up the harder it gets. Even for volunteers going to collect things, it’s the cost of petrol to get there.
“It’s hard because come September everyone’s going to get hit with more costs. We actually pay the gas and electricity for the church because we use more than the church does and that’s gone up hugely.”
Personal benefits of volunteering
Despite the challenges, the volunteers clearly take a lot from their work here.
Scott said: “What I get out of it is huge. It helps me with my mental health, it helps me to get out and about with my physical health problems, it keeps my brain active, it means I get to talk to people.
“It’s that feeling I get from seeing somebody else happy and actually start to turn a corner because you can’t put a price on somebody’s happiness.”
Bringing people together with the craft group
Alongside the community panty, the craft group at Oscari provides further opportunities for social connection. Volunteer Helen who runs the group, explains what people take from it.
She said: “They are such good friends. I had a lady come about a month ago, really, really nervous and by the end of it she’d started walking groups with the ladies, was going to the tea and coffee ladies group. So it’s really, really good.
“In the school holidays I’m going to be running the children’s craft groups. It will be free to come along and we’ll provide packed lunches too. The summer holidays is a long time for some families, they struggle feeding them.”
Supporting mental health
Whilst some members of the community rely on the pantry and some attend the craft group, support from Oscari takes many forms outside these structures too.
Tracy said: “I help people with benefits filling in forms, phoning people for them.I’ve done several referrals for social care and signpost people to different places.”
Scott explains: “It could be that you listening to someone has broken them out of that social isolation or it’s pulled them back from the edge. It can literally save someone’s life.
“If you’ve got better mental health you’re going to get better physical health, physical health will lead to better mental health and one of the key aspects of that is what you’re eating, what you’re drinking.
“So you put all that together and hopefully we can help more people to help themselves but at the same time make sure families are supported and kids are getting proper food. And that’s pretty much what we do, why we’re here.”