Storm clouds are brewing on the horizon at the Vale Pantry

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A growing number of proud pensioners are in tears when seeking help to feed themselves – the Pantry’s Carole Jones spoke to Rachael Rowe.

Image Gareth Jones

The Vale Pantry, the social supermarket in Sturminster Newton, has been running since November 2020 and is highly successful. However, over the past few weeks, the team are seeing a growing trend as they receive
new requests for help. The cost of living is affecting many, but life is getting significantly more precarious for our more vulnerable members of the community.

The requests keep coming.
Carole Jones and her team started the Vale Pantry in Sturminster Newton with 100 clients. That quickly rose to 150, but today there are 240 families on the books. In the last couple of weeks, the team has seen a significant rise in requests for assistance. Carole said: “This last week we have had an unprecedented
number of new applications. Around 70 per cent of them now come from pensioners – who have never asked for help before in their lives. So many are proud and have been in tears about asking for help – it’s incredibly sad.
“It was a surprise to us about the number of people of retirement age who are on pensions or working and unable to make ends meet. And older people always feel guilty about it as they think someone else is worse off than them.”
The Pantry has looked at ways of making sure there is room for everyone who needs it. For example, clients who are beginning to return to work have access on a fortnightly basis. The end of the month before people are paid is the time of heaviest demand. In the last week of April, the Pantry received 12 new applications; and requests continue to flow in. That’s a five per cent rise in a week. Just imagine if things continue to rise
at that rate.

The Tipping Point
Many of us are checking prices right now and have noticed the rise in costs everywhere. Most of us are looking at ways to cut back on spending. So what is tipping people over the edge? Carole has seen the plight of people stuck on contracts.
“We have people who have looked at cancelling subscriptions such as Sky or mobile phones to cut back. However, they found they are on a contract that they cannot get out of, and that is leading to more debt. There is no leeway. And then there are people who are on a meter for their energy supplies for all kinds of reasons, including previous debt. Those people can’t change their tariffs, so the bills are higher. One family had a bill of £180 for nine days. And come October, it will be worse. It’s a perfect storm.”
There are also reports of people not being able to afford the basics. For example, families have reported to Carole that they have received notification that they can no longer access NHS dentistry in Sturminster Newton. “A parent told me they can’t afford £36 for each child to have a check-up at the dentist.”

Image Gareth Jones

How to Help the Situation
The team are looking at tips for people to save energy. Carole continued: “For example, a slow cooker uses significantly less energy than a four ring hob- and you have a one-pot meal.” The team already receive generous donations of fresh vegetables from Gold Hill Organic Farm during the growing season.
Carole is also working to help Ukrainian refugees settle in the area. “We have pledged to support all
the Ukrainians who need our help.” She is looking ahead to the colder months. “It will be a challenging year. We are pulling all kinds of threads of help together. Ideally, I’d like our own citizens’ advisor who can work with people to see what benefits they might be eligible for, such as free school meals for children. It would also be nice to have a hardship fund.”

How can readers could help
Carole is clear. “If people can set up a standing order for a regular donation, it would help us a lot. We are now a registered charity, so we can claim gift aid. Our running costs are £3,000 a WEEK at present. People think everything is free, but we have to buy in the food. If I could raise our revenue to £4,000 or 5,000, it will help us support more people in need and be able to plan ahead.”

To find out more about Vale Pantry, either to register for help or to donate, contact www.valepantry.co.uk/ or call 07968 348481.

by Rachael Rowe

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