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KingsGate Church fights food insecurity with KU student food pantry

By Jackson Hall Nov 30, 2023
A table at a food pantry with various breakfast items, drinks, and canned foods visible.Photo: Jackson Hall Some items available on November 26 included breakfast bars, teas, and canned vegetables.

A food pantry supporting Kingston University students has opened in KingsGate Church in Kingston town centre. The pantry, which is open Sundays from 1:30pm to 3:30pm, helps students affected by the cost of living crisis by providing groceries, hygiene products and other essentials.

The initiative, spearheaded in part by KU nutrition professor Hilda Mulrooney, also aims to provide students with healthy ingredients and reduce waste. Students pay just £5 and receive products worth around £25 or more.

KingsGate member and organiser Sarah Clay said: “It’s a really dignified way of supporting people. It gives people a choice, they get to choose what items they want, and they contribute financially as well, so it isn’t just a handout. It was really important for us that we did something that helped students to eat healthily.”

As well as fight food insecurity, KingsGate hopes to create a safe environment for students to seek support from the local community. The pantry offers free tea and coffee and regularly hosts cooking demonstrations, often using the ingredients available at the pantry that day.

Clay said: “The recipes we’re doing are healthy and affordable. And then we’ve got a signposting table if students do need extra support, whether that’s financial, mental health, or even if they just want to get more involved.

“Sometimes, it’s only when you come somewhere and meet someone that you potentially get to talking about some of the deeper issues that are going on in life. So we want to make sure that this is a wraparound offer, as a place to build relationships and friendships but also to ask ‘how do I cook?’”

The pantry is supported by the Good Food Group as well as local Kingston charity Voices of Hope, whose Brite Box program supplies recipes for the pantry’s demonstrations. Items are donated by Kingston residents as well as sourced from the surplus stock of various companies and supermarkets. The rest is purchased by KingsGate using the funds from the pantry.

On November 26, the pantry offered steak, breakfast bars, fresh lettuce and chili peppers, and skincare products from The Ordinary and Starface, among many other items.

Sarah Sumpter, KU nutrition student and volunteer, said: “It’s five pounds, but you get free coffee and cake, and if you go out in town, that’s already gonna cost you ten. You might need to buy things from other places, but this should be the bulk of your weekly shop.”

The pantry relies on student volunteers and urges anyone in need to make use of it and meet others in their community. It also plans to distribute free hot meals in the future.

“There’s a lot of stigma, and people don’t know how to get help. One of the things we want to do here is make it clear that this is a safe place, there’s no judgement. We’re not like, ‘show us your bank account!’ No, if you need this, come use it, take your items, and come back next week,” Sumpter said.

Those interested in volunteering or using the food pantry can reach out via email to studentpantry@kingsgatechurch.org.uk, social media at @kgspantry, or in person at KingsGate Church at 161A Clarence St, Kingston, KT1 1QT.

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