How can we remove stigma from food pantries? 

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Often the smallest financial change can cause someone’s income to fall below their needs. In the current economic climate, it is unsurprising that more people are needing help to afford food for themselves and their families. Support is available in Bath and North East Somerset through food pantries and local council funding.  However, many people perceive there is still a widespread stigma around food poverty and are therefore not taking advantage of these vital resources.  

Whilst on the surface, BaNES appears to be one of the least deprived local authorities in England, ‘Twerton West’ and ‘Whiteway’ are within the top 10 per cent of the most deprived local wards in the whole country. The cost-of-living crisis has exacerbated this. 

Research conducted by BaNES Council found that 8 per cent of BaNES residents, equating to approximately 21,000 people, worried that food would run out before they could buy more, meaning that for these families and individuals, using food pantries has become a necessity. Furthermore, The Food Foundation found that households with children are at higher risk of experiencing food poverty, with 14.4 per cent of people in the South West experiencing food poverty in the  single month of  April 2022. 

Tackling perceptions around food poverty and pantries is not an easy task. By challenging these perceptions and sharing the reality, we can encourage people to use these resources,  engage with their communities and understand the needs and issues faced by the wider population.   

What is a food pantry? 

Food banks and food pantries are terms that can be easily confused. Both provide food for those who may be struggling to afford essentials for themselves and their families. However, there is a difference between them: 

A food bank focuses on supplying emergency food provisions to individuals or families. They also gather as much stock as possible to distribute amongst other organisations that provide food support within communities. For example, food banks may arrange charity events or encourage supermarket shoppers to purchase something extra to add to the collection. 

A food pantry, on the other hand, provides food directly to those who do not have enough to eat in a particular area. They are often run on a membership basis, for which people pay a small amount per month or per shop. The intention behind a pantry is to provide a shopping-like experience to reduce any stigma that people may feel and build a supportive community. This system means that members can save up to £1,000 on grocery bills per year, and the pantries are open to all, not just those who may be financially, socially and economically under-served. 

What stigma surrounds food pantries? 

Researchers at the University of Bath have studied the stigmas surrounding the use of food pantries and reasons that may prevent people from requesting help if they are experiencing food poverty.  

The research found that empathy is one significant factor. Many were unwilling to ‘take’ food supplies from those ‘who needed them more’, as they did not consider themselves as part of a demographic that should be using food pantries. Many stated that they based their assessment on unfair societal stereotypes, believing only those who may be claiming benefits, or are from under-served backgrounds should be benefiting from access to food pantries.  

Closely linked, the research also identifies ‘pride’ as a factor. Participants of the study stated they felt a moral failing to not be able to sustain themselves and their families without outside support when often they were in full time work.  

Many participants did feel that the pandemic changed perceptions around food poverty for a short while. With so many people out of work and many others eager to partake in community initiatives, seeking help when you needed it became the norm and encouraged. However, now the pandemic is over, many are feeling the return of a stigma surrounding food poverty, despite the economic pressures left over from the COVID-19 years and the current economic climate. 

Reducing the stigma around food pantries and food poverty is important, in order to support those who are struggling financially and ensure they feel comfortable reaching out for help when they need it. 

Tackling food poverty in BaNES 

St John’s Foundation is working closely with local partners with the mission of eradicating food poverty across the region.  The Nutritious Food and Safe Places programme is an integral part of the Foundation Fund which funds FareShare, as well as several other local projects, to deliver food to families, food banks, food clubs and pantries that provide access to nutritious food to those who need it most in the area. 

However, our vital work extends beyond us and our partners. We believe that changing perceptions is essential to reduce any enduring stigma surrounding the use of food pantries and the best way to support those families and individuals who need to use them, for as long as they need to use them. 

The independent voluntary project BaNES Food Finder provides a list of food clubs and pantries in our region that can offer affordable food or food parcels.  

To read more about food poverty in BaNES, click here.