With lockdown, the need to co-ordinate shopping support grew exponentially, and so Karen organised the sourcing, collation and delivery of around 30 food parcels every day. She worked with three local schools to support families with children who were on free school meals, by providing weekly breakfast boxes to ensure that their nutrition was not suffering due to the impact of the pandemic.
By running the larder for two years from her lounge, Karen was able to ensure that the families and elderly were always supported - providing breakfast boxes, Christmas meals, Christmas parcels, Easter and summer parcels. The parcels were essential in rounding out the support for those in need, and provided more than just food, such as toiletries and cleaning products.
In the Summer of 2022, funding and a premises became available, so the Rural Community Larder was launched officially in Woodford Halse. Woodford Halse and the villages nearby are in a rural location, with very limited public transportation and minimal local affordable shopping opportunities. With the help of Miranda Wixon, another two larders were soon opened – in Daventry and Brixworth. The Larder has over 60 volunteers, 45 of whom are required every week to help collect, deliver, set up and run the larder. 316 volunteer manhours are given up to help feed over 1,700 people a month. As a recognition of this hard work and dedication, the Woodford Halse larder volunteers were awarded the Rose of Northamptonshire for their outstanding contribution to their community.
Each household becomes a member for the year for £10 membership, and then can attend each week and purchase a fixed fee £5 or a £10 grocery shop. For this, they receive points to spend on a selection of ambient, chilled and frozen foods, as well as additional free fruit, vegetables and bread. To prolong the life of food, the Larder has a triple door freezer, three big industrial chest freezers, a couple of small freezers and fridges and a chiller unit.
"The schools that we work with have seen a massive improvement in the children’s lunchboxes from the families who are using the Larder. We used to provide breakfast supplies to the schools, but we no longer need to do this, because everything is affordable for the members through the Larder. One father said it’s changed what they can give the children so much. It’s healthy and there’s more to put in the lunchboxes.”
The Larder is always looking for cost-effective ways to help households stretch their budgets further. For example, the Larder provides sanitary products and incontinence products free of charge every week, and outside agencies come in to give free advice including a debt collector, community law advisor, an Outreach Programme, and Household Support Funds from West Northamptonshire Council. Karen also has a team of volunteers that befriend people and help them if they need medical support or companionship. They also receive referrals from doctors, schools and other agencies when people are in crisis, who are provided with free, tailored supplies of food, cleaning and toiletry products.
The Larder volunteers provide free cookery classes to the members and wider public. These have included batch-cooking, cooking for one, international cuisine recipes and handy food-waste hacks.
Last winter, the Larder started running a ‘warm space’ as part of the council-supported programme. Every Thursday, elderly members of the local community spend time in a warm, friendly environment to save on their own heating bills. Thanks to FareShare Midlands supplies and the batch cooking classes, the Larder has freezers full of casseroles, sausage rolls and quiches. The elderly members enjoy a delicious hot lunch, play games and then get to take four meals home with them.
"It's not just food. The Larder is a community and we have so many people that come early before we open to socialise, as they don't see anybody from one week to another”.
“When we started the Larders, the membership was made up of pensioners and people that were on benefits or out of work. Our members were people that had very little and didn't have any disposable income. But recently we’ve found that we have a lot more couples joining that are both working. They come in saying that they don't really want to do it, because they feel that they are taking food from other people. But in reality, they are also struggling due to the cost-of-living crisis. A lot of the families are in rented or local authority accommodation, and they can't afford to not pay their rent or fuel costs to get to work.
We’ve had to open an evening session very early on just to help those that are working. I’m amazed at the amount of people that are in professional jobs.
I had one family that said after they paid for their childcare and all the bills, they had seven pounds left at the end of the month.”
Karen says that all the volunteers say they get something out of it. One lady said, “I'd lost my faith in humanity. I'd gone through some bad things, and I just didn't think there were nice people out there. But doing this, it has come back - my faith has returned that there are good people out there”.
“The beauty of FareShare is often in the unexpected! We do get some weird and wonderful things, but I have a fantastic volunteer who immediately seeks out recipes that the members can take home with them”.
Receiving food from FareShare Midlands allows members of the larder to broaden their horizons and try a huge range of new foods, that they never would buy themselves for fear of wasting money. By removing this risk, there is now a much larger supply of varied, nutritional foods in the community.
“We collect produce from many places, but FareShare Midlands is our main supplier and without them we wouldn’t have a larder with the variety of choice or volume of produce available to our members. FareShare Midlands are vital to the Larder operating. I don’t know what the members did before we were here. It’s a lifeline for a lot of them - they rely on it. It means they can buy new school uniform and new shoes rather than rely on ill-fitting hand-me-downs. One woman was able to help her daughter and granddaughter with the money she was saving by shopping at the larder. Having that little bit of money left over, it gives peace of mind in case anything goes wrong in the house”.