6 February 2023

The Anglican food relief program that’s run by the people it helps

Most Pantry 5000 volunteers were its food support recipients. Picture: Supplied by Ken Gooding.

Jenan Taylor

12 August 2022

Pantry 5000 has been providing food relief for 10 years. Now some of those it’s helped are lending a hand.

When Longbeach Anglican parishioners Ken and Sue Gooding started food distribution service Pantry 5000 in 2012, they had no idea it would become so huge.

Mr Gooding said Pantry 5000 which references Jesus’ feeding of the 5000, emerged out of a program called ‘40 days of community’ at St Aidan’s Carrum.

On the first day of operations, there were just nine volunteers, and 30 people had turned up looking for assistance, he said.

But within two or three weeks about 100 people had started coming along for food support.

He said the numbers had then plateaued for a while, but over the last couple of years had become substantial and were indicative of the need in the bayside area ranging from Carrum to Seaford to Parkdale.  

Their ‘guests’, as Mr Gooding prefers to call the food beneficiaries, are on low incomes or are unemployed.

Some may couch surf and some may live in their cars or in caravans, and in recent months their numbers have climbed to about 400, he said.

Read more: Food relief demand soars as living pressures mount

But key to Pantry 5000’s ability to provide them with free, nutritious food are its volunteers, most of whom were the same guests that the initiative has helped over the years.

“They’d come to us for support, and then said they really liked what we were doing here. They liked the field, they liked the way that we conduct our relationships with everybody, and they would ask if they could become a part of the volunteer team. We never say no,” Mr Gooding said.

“My aim from my mission point of view is that you’ve just taken one step closer to forming a relationship with Christ by saying you want to be a volunteer, and so we will work on that.”

He said Pantry 5000 which still operates from St Aidan’s runs a bit like a mini supermarket that, at times, also happens to do food delivery.

Its volunteers source and collect food from supermarkets and Foodbank Victoria, then pack it all up on Tuesdays so that it’s ready to be distributed at the outlet on Wednesdays or delivered to people’s dwellings on Thursdays.

Rather than giving people pre-packaged hampers, guests are allowed to choose what suits their needs, especially if they’re also trying to support a family.

“We just find that probably gives them a bit more dignity and shows them that we’re there to help them rather than demand that they take this charity or leave it,” Mr Gooding said.

Depending on their circumstances, people can get a bag of pasta or rice and then they can select breakfast cereal, and frozen foods or dairy items, as well as pick eight different vegetables and six different fruits.

Volunteers themselves, Mr and Mrs Gooding work on the program five days a week.

But Longbeach parish vicar the Reverend Sue Bluett said they’d thrown themselves into it seven days a week during the pandemic.

Ms Bluett said there was also a community garden space attached to the food distribution centre, and that before the pandemic lockdowns the Goodings would sit and chat to people who came for groceries.

Through that, they had helped to extend valuable ministry services, she said.

Mr Gooding also said not all of the volunteers were necessarily church-going people, however some of them had indeed gone on to become members of the church.

Since becoming part of the team, some have even wanted to give back financially to Pantry 5000.

“Every week, I get one or two of our volunteers saying, look, here’s five dollars, I hope that helps,” Mr Gooding said.

“I usually tell them that it’s more the fact that they want to do that, that helps, but I’d never turn down their offer. It might buy two packets of cereal but it’s the gesture that is just lovely. I love that.”

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