Bellingen Lifehouse food pantry has been operating for over five years and now has over 1000 people and families registered from all over the district and beyond.
Some people travelling through from places like Ebor, Dorrigo and Macksville love to pop in have a chat and shop to stock up their pantry.
Most of our clients are locals and unsurprisingly over half are aged pensioners.
Their pensions only stretch so far and when the landlord puts the rent up and the electricity bill is due, food is the first thing they often forfeit, which is a sad indictment on our society.
The elderly are often too proud to accept 'charity' but in the pantry they can access basic food items, such as bread and vegetables, pasta, rice, cereal, long life milk, tea, even a packet of chocolate biscuits to have with their cup of tea.
They pay for their items (they wouldn't like it any other way) at a very reduced price. Bread and fresh fruit and vegetables are complimentary.
I think it helps their dignity too when we explain that by shopping with us they are actually helping someone else, we are not for profit so the more we "sell" the more we can buy.
Our next highest client group are those with school-aged children.
Keeping the kids in snacks can often be financially draining so we endeavour to have things that are great for lunch boxes, or food to satisfy ever-hungry kids with after school snacks.
The Foodbank requirement is that you must be a pensioner or Health Care Card holder to access the service.
We purchase most of our food from Foodbank in Sydney,, which is a wonderful charity and great for recycling.
Companies support Foodbank by supplying food items, and they are also donated when the product isn't 'perfect' enough for grocery stores – for example, with short best before dates, labels on incorrectly or blemishes.
In the past a lot of it would have gone to landfill.
We are supported financially by Lifehouse Church in Coffs Harbour and locally by Bellingen Christian Gathering. Bellingen Rotary are also on board. We are not for profit and all of our staff bar one are volunteers.
Locally we work with St Vincent de Paul, Bellingen Neighbourhood Centre and the Bellingen Youth Hub (to name a few) who issue vouchers to be used in the pantry.
They also get their emergency hampers and Christmas Hampers through the Bellingen Pantry.
This year well over a hundred Christmas Hampers were distributed in Bellingen alone, with scores more to Urunga.
The Anglican Church also work closely with the Bellingen Pantry doing a fantastic job distributing to the people of Urunga.
But it's not just about the groceries, honestly, some people come in just to say hello, for a friendly smile or a compassionate ear.
Local businesses and individuals also support us. Bellingen IGA, Swiss Patisserie, Hearthfire and Farmer Dave. A lovely lady made us homemade marmalade, some will bring us pumpkins, herbs, eggs or fruit or vegetables they have grown. It is really a joy to give an elderly person some fresh locally sourced produce and watch their smile.
When they get that bill and wonder how they can make it another week, we can help, hand in hand with our local community. That's what it's all about.
Bellingen Pantry operates at the rear of Lifehouse Op Shop on Tuesday and Friday Mornings from 10am to noon.
Enquiries call Kellie Small 0457491468