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How volunteers keep their community nourished at Wigton Food Pantry

Diane Blackburn is a volunteer at Wigton Food Pantry, a food project and charity that has inspired a group of local people to keep their community nourished, reduce food waste and address loneliness. 

Wigton Food Pantry was founded just prior to the pandemic, when it became clear that some members of the community needed support. There was a need to fight hunger, bring local people together and prevent waste food going into landfill. The community decided to take action – and Wigton Food Pantry was born! 

After being introduced to Julie, the regional co-ordinator for FareShare, a core group of volunteers decided that their church hall was the ideal space to distribute food, and they set up Wigton Food Pantry, a non-profit facility.


How the food pantry works

Based in St Cuthbert’s Church Hall, Wigton Food Pantry is open every Wednesday, attracting between 60 to 100 visitors each week. FareShare provide a food delivery each week, and the pantry also receives locally grown fruit and vegetables and donated goods from nearby supermarkets and small businesses. Customers are invited to come along, choose what they’d like and make a donation based on what they can afford to pay. 

Diane is one of around ten volunteers who keep the pantry running. She found out about the project following her retirement from the NHS in 2020, when Diane realised she wanted to give something back to her community now that time allowed it. Other volunteers come from varied backgrounds including nursing, banking and teaching, with everyone bringing different ideas and skills to the table.

A volunteer at Wigton Food Pantry stands behind a table with boxes of cereal and other dried foods. She has a jazzy hat on and is smiling happily.

A community hub

Since it opened, the pantry has become an important asset for the community. A coffee morning now runs during the pantry’s opening hours, with hot and cold drinks, pastries, cakes and fruit enjoyed by everyone from mums and kids to elderly people, who all pull up a chair and have a natter after doing their shopping. The pantry also hosts book swaps, games and jigsaws, and has even offered wellbeing sessions, when shoppers can sign up for a health check. 

“The pantry helps to make life a little easier for people, especially those who are on their own. The social interaction is as important as the food.” 

The pantry has inspired the whole community, with local people using their imaginations and getting creative to support the project. John Crouch is a volunteer and local celebrity chef, who provides recipes and runs very popular cooking sessions, demonstrating how easy it is make a meal from scratch using ingredients from the Food Pantry. 

Each week, there are familiar faces –  known as ‘Pantry Pals’ – who enjoy the chat, the company, the recipes, and love to see how they can get involved. Word is getting around that everyone can access the facility and there is a Facebook page with plenty of information, recipes and chat. Volunteers at WIgton Food Pantry can see how much people appreciate what they offer, the friendliness, the laughter, the company, and meeting each other. They stay on hand to offer support and encouragement, and always ensure they’re being inclusive to their diverse group of customers.  All in all, it’s a great recipe for the community that gives people hope that they are making a difference to others.

Volunteers from all backgrounds

One of the pantry’s youngest volunteers, Toby, is ten years old and has raised over £800 for the pantry by taking on a readathon, receiving a young person of the year award in recognition of his efforts. Wigton Choral Society also raise funds for the pantry by collecting donations at their concerts, while local schools send pupils to volunteer, with an after school club even donating coats and jackets to help other children stay warm during the winter. 

“Every project needs a good volunteer base and we definitely have that. Everyone has different ideas and we listen to them all.”


The Big Lunch

On top of the pantry’s weekly coffee mornings, Diane and the team organise an annual Big Lunch at the pantry to celebrate Wigton’s community spirit. With the pantry’s doors thrown open and tables laid out with delicious food, it’s a chance for everyone to come together, make new friends and celebrate how far this community has come. 

“The Big Lunch brings everybody together. It’s something a bit different and we had over 100 people come along this year! We put tables and chairs in the sunshine, enjoyed some live music from our customer Lol and everyone had a wonderful time!” 


A group of people sitting at a table in a church hall, sharing drinks and food together. There is bunting up in the background and everyone is smiling

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