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Forty families in Hitchin are the first members of the Hitchin Pantry, a new community supermarket which allows its members to do their weekly shop for four pounds.

During the pandemic, the number of families unable to afford adequate food rose by as much as 250% according to a report by the Food Standards Agency. This included families in Hitchin, Letchworth and surrounding areas, some of whom were supported by weekly food deliveries from the Catholic Parish of Our Lady Immaculate and St Andrew and Feed Up Warm Up.

The new community Pantry gives members the chance to shop with choice and dignity. For just £4 a week they can choose a certain number of fresh, chilled and cupboard items, and as much fresh fruit and vegetables as they can carry.

The pantry has been set up by Hitchin parish in partnership with Caritas Westminster and Feed Up Warm Up, a local homeless charity.

Liz Wills, parishioner and Development Worker for Caritas Westminster explains: 'At the beginning of the pandemic we started delivering hampers of food to around 40 families a week. In total we have provided over 3,000 parcels to people who had been directly and financially impacted by the pandemic.

'We are now ready to move from a “hand-out" to a “hand-up” model. At a time of uncertainty, the fixed rate of £4 a week for a weekly shop will be a great help to members of the Hitchin Pantry, allowing them to buy a few other of life’s essentials or simply pay their bills and heat their homes properly.'

The Hitchin Pantry, which operates out of the newly furbished Scout Hut at the Church of Our Lady Immaculate and St Andrew, was officially opened on Friday 29th October by Bishop Paul McAleenan, who commented: 'The Hitchin Pantry is real community in operation. It presents an atmosphere and environment where people don’t feel they are being watched or judged, but are given space to shop as they would in any supermarket and have access to top quality provisions. Here there is no distinction between donor or helper or beneficiary; instead there is a sense of all being together for a worthy cause.'

The Hitchin Pantry is also a community space, where members can stop for a cup of tea and a chat. Volunteers provide information to members about where they can get further support for issues affecting them, such as benefits, debt or housing issues. 

Liz Wills paid tribute to the volunteers saying, 'We are extremely grateful for all our volunteers, some of whom used to help with the delivery of the food parcels, and others who have recently come forward. We would also like to thank the Settle Housing Association, whose staff volunteered to refurbish the well-loved Scout Hut, making it a welcoming space for us and also for the continued support of our partners Feed Up Warm Up and Caritas Westminster.'

The Hitchin Pantry is part of the Your Local Pantry network supported by Church Action Against Poverty, and the first such Pantry run by a parish in the Diocese of Westminster. There are an estimated 250 other food projects, such as food banks run or supported by parishes and schools in the Diocese, and Caritas Westminster is continuing to explore ways of ensuring these projects help people out of their difficult situations.

You can support the work of Caritas Westminster by donating here.

Photos: Mazur/