Nestled away from the bustle of Deptford high-street, Evelyn Community Centre is the host of Evelyn Community Store, open every Tuesday evening between 4-7 pm. Opened in February this year, after much hard work from both the volunteers and from the team at Lewisham Homes, the Community Store is helping to provide much-needed support for locals who are struggling financially. Since opening the store the number of people visiting has gradually increased, yet this popularity is paradoxical and nor is it celebrated by those involved. The good news is that people in need are getting the help that they deserve but it points to the larger, underlying issues of food poverty many are facing as they struggle to afford their weekly food shop. Laid out as your average supermarket, members take in turns to select the fresh fruit and veg, frozen foods, dry store goods and everyday household items that they need, even those with dietary requirements are catered for with halal and gluten-free options regularly available.
The volunteers work with FareShare, a nationwide charity that has been helping to re-distribute food since 1994. The food that they collect is surplus and despite being in-date and of great quality, would otherwise go to waste. The store is open to anyone who lives in the borough of Lewisham and is either on benefits or on a low-income. Members sign up to the store and pay £3.50 for all the food that they collect and make huge savings that can help alleviate the financial burden they are under. The set fee for the store, regardless of what you take away with you, is to help rid the taboo of food banks and users have pride knowing that they have contributed to what they take home with them. Natasha, one of the main organisers of Evelyn Community Store explains “When the price of everything is rising and the packaging shrinking, people are feeling the pinch more. What used to stretch isn’t stretching anymore”.
The Community Store is currently at maximum capacity and can no longer accept new members. Yet despite this, they do whatever they can to help people in need and try their best not to turn anyone away, regardless if they can contribute or not, no-one should go hungry.
Plenty of Love from Volunteers
Plenty of love is poured into the project by those who help out, most locals but some even travelling from North London every week to volunteer at the centre, driven by their willingness to help others. As you enter Evelyn Community Store you will find tables laid out with sandwiches and cakes, with volunteers going round offering teas and coffees to those are waiting to shop. Natasha explained that they are trying to help build a community, talk to the locals and offer friendship and a smile as well as groceries, this is particularly beneficial for those who face the ever-increasing issue of loneliness. With recent research proving what a negative effect this is having on people, both mentally and physically these small acts of kindness will go a long way. The Community Store even has a ‘digital champion’ who occasionally offers IT support and lessons to those who come by. But it’s not just those using the store who have benefited, as volunteers have also managed to gain great variety skills by getting involved in the project from safe-guarding to food handling. It’s worth noting the pride and joy that the volunteers take in helping their local communities and there are even three generations from the same family volunteering at the project.
All the work and effort that has gone into the Community Store has not gone unnoticed and the team in Evelyn won the Health and Wellbeing award at the My Community Awards in September this year. They also received £5,000 from Travis Perkins to help continue their work. There is still lots for the team to do and with winter and Christmas coming up their focus is on trying to get as much warm clothing as possible – jackets, coats, socks and scarves for men, women and children so that no-one goes cold this winter, to put it simply “everyone deserves to be warm”.
So far the team have received some incredibly generous donations from both local stores, but also from individuals who are doing their bit and offering up what the can, one man recently gave 40 advent calendars so that those less fortunate can still enjoy Christmas. The team are working on Christmas hampers, alongside facilitating the re-location within the building, as well as trying to put together a community website which shares local’s recipes – the project is always evolving and becoming ever more versatile in the scope of issues that they help with.
Soon to be celebrating their one year anniversary, the team and everyone behind it, have created a phenomenal community project here in Lewisham and have other volunteers visiting them to witness their progress as well as all the hard work that goes into such a venture, in the hope that they too can open a Community Store to help those who are struggling whilst simultaneously saving good food that would otherwise be wasted.
How can you help?
Evelyn Community Store isn’t currently looking for volunteers due to the large and dedicated team running the project but they are always in need of donations. Whether it be food, sanitary items, clothes, or anything else that could be of use they will be extremely grateful. If you would like to contact them and make a donation, you can do so here – firstname.lastname@example.org