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Mon. Jul 15th, 2024

Getting life’s essentials has been made easier for the small community of Bundarra after a Food Pantry service was introduced by Uralla Community Neighbourhood Centre.  

The first Food Pantry trial was held last Thursday, 29th June, at the back of the Commercial Hotel who had donated the use of the space. Feedback from the Bundarra community was extremely positive, with over 60 people coming – some in need of support, and others who just wanted to help. The Food Pantry project is assisted by Foodbank NSW, where non-perishable food staples are purchased and sold on at low cost. Foodbank is a not-for-profit organisation that bridges the gap between the food and grocery industry’s surplus and those going without.

The idea of a food pantry service came from a meeting where Farmgate Peer Support worker, Liam Gabriel, Uralla Community Neighbourhood Centre Coordinator, Jaz Taylor, and Family Support Services Nigel Forsyth, discussing Bundarra’s needs as a small, isolated village. Given Bundarra is roughly one hour’s drive from Uralla or Armidale, and with an aging population and narrow and ailing rural roads, it is a major exercise for many to access services such as doctors, Centrelink and groceries.

Following this meeting, Mr Gabriel and Ms Taylor met with owners of Bundarra business The Bridge Stores, and others in the community, to make the idea a reality.

“When we bought this business, we wanted it to be a comforting place for the community, where they could come for a cuppa and a chat, and feel like they had a friend to talk to when they needed it,” said Jackie Stibbard, who is part owner of The Bridge Stores.

“We are so far from the main towns, and it is a big trip for elderly people to make across to Armidale to go to Centrelink or appointments.”

After the successful establishment of a Food Pantry in Walcha, Ms Taylor and Mr Gabriel suggested a monthly Food Pantry might be a good starting point for this community.

“If the people don’t have to worry so much about the cost of food, they can use that bit extra to pay some other bills”, Ms Taylor said.

Without knowing how well the first event would be received, Ms Taylor, Mr Gabriel, Mr Forsyth and Andrew Daley from another affiliated support service Rural Advisory Metal Health Program (Ramhp), “loaded up a ute full of food and headed to Bundarra”.  

“I didn’t think the first one would be this successful,” said Ms Taylor.

“We had a ute full of food and came home with only two boxes. We took twenty registration forms and had thirty-six people join.”

“We had over sixty people turn up, some just coming down to support us and to let us know how great it was that this was happening.”

 “One elderly resident was so thankful for this service here today, she said she normally goes to Armidale once a month and it really takes it out of her. Now, with the Food Pantry, she will only go in once every two months and she can save money on groceries and fuel”.

 “The community really supported this day, the elderly residents and the young families,” Ms Stibbard said.

“It was great for people to be able to talk to people, in person, and for them to discuss how to access support services.”

“People won’t ask for help, they will always say there is someone worse off than them who needs the help more. Having people here who will spend the time and ask the questions has meant so much”.

“It was like a busy day at Coles but with people thanking you for bringing this to their town. Just to see the smiles was priceless,” she said.

“I know that this has helped a lot of families and individuals that are having a hard time at the moment.”

Through discussions with residents on the day, it was clear that many services were needed by the community, ranging from health care and carer’s support, Centrelink services, Seniors Travel Cards and help with power bills. Additional food pantry essential items such as bread, toiletries and sugar were also earmarked for the next event.

“The elderly residents do struggle to get access to the support they need,” Ms Stibbard said.

“Knowing that Family Support Services and Uralla Community Neighbourhood Centre can help our community access these services has been a real help.”

Future plans to provide services to the Bundarra community include supporting the Breakfast Club at Bundarra Central School through donations of food so it can remain open and establishing some form of Community Centre as a community space and central point to access services and referrals. The next Food Pantry will be held on Thursday 27th July, and are planned to continue on the last Thursday of each month.

Additional community consultation is planned to extend this particular service into other small towns within the Uralla Shire.

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