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Pictured: (left to right) Allana Gray and Kerry Scobbie, both volunteers at The Coo Park Pantry.

When referrals to a local food pantry skyrocketed during lockdown, the project’s ethos of providing ‘a hand up rather than a handout’ became the mantra for the wider community it serves.

Since launching last November, The Coo Park Pantry has offered, on average, 30 Langlees and Bainsford residents an opportunity to pick up fresh and healthy food each week for the price of a small weekly membership - £2.

But when the pandemic struck the community run project was inundated with referrals for emergency food supplies, from schools and social work and from those who’d either lost their job, were furloughed or shielding.

The four volunteers behind the pantry knew they needed support to ensure no one went hungry, so turned to Falkirk Council’s Community Learning & Development (CLD) team who’d helped them get started.

The team, who are currently working to transform how the Council delivers support to communities through the Closer to Communities with Community Choices project - helped the volunteers access additional food supplies and Personal Protective Equipment as well as training and external funding, all of which kept the shelves stocked during the initial peak of the crisis.

Allana Gray, Pantry Co-ordinator, said: “Every week we worked with the CLD team. They were fantastic and 100% had our back to make this work. If I wasn’t sure about something or needed help, I knew I could ask them anything. Without their support and resources, we would not have been able to reach as many people in need nor respond to the increase in referrals for food assistance during lockdown.”

It’s good to talk

Even although the pantry doesn’t publicise what it does online, people immediately knew it could provide vital support during the pandemic because “folk like to talk”.

“People from all over Falkirk heard about us and came for help. We never turn anyone away so we provided support and put them in touch with the Council’s Support for People who helped them find another pantry or community food provider closer to where they lived so they didn’t have so far to travel.”

The Coo Park’s central role in the community response to COVID-19 came about because the pantry already had widespread support before the crisis hit.

“We were able to add in the wee extras that make a difference to our parcels because we’d already fundraised in the community before lockdown. That meant community money was going back into the community and folk were also handing in donations of tins, teabags, coffee and biscuits.

“The pantry is important to people in our community because it’s a non-judgemental way to access quality food items to supplement the weekly shop, which helps free up money to pay for other necessities such as prepayment gas and electricity credit.

“We are really proud of the community we live in and the response it had to the pandemic. Although no-one knows what will happen next, they do know where they can turn to for a hand up rather than a handout.”

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