Alton Community Cupboard during Lockdown

An interview with organiser Sandy Marks,

by Lesley Willis

The Community Cupboard opened in Alton for the first time shortly before Christmas 2019, and was an immediate hit with its twice-weekly sessions, sharing food that would otherwise be thrown away. Anyone could go along and collect produce which would have been wasted as it was past its ‘sell-by date’. The food was collected by volunteers from many of the supermarkets in the town and put out on tables for the grateful clients.

Loaded with boxes of food for delivery

Once the current pandemic reached the UK, and we were in Lockdown, the Community Cupboard had to find a new way to operate – just when there were many people finding budgeting for food a challenge. In a very short time organiser Sandy Marks had a fit-for-purpose Covid-19 Community Cupboard up and running.

It now operates on 6 days a week, collecting from half a dozen supermarkets, delivering boxes of food to over 60 households, and to at least one school  breakfast club, which feeds 17 families. At the same time hygiene and social distancing rules are strictly observed. One of the volunteers has made masks for everyone to use as they collect and deliver food, and at the end of each session there is a routine of thorough cleaning and disinfecting. Still using food which would otherwise be thrown away, it now trusts people to ask for help only if they are in need.

When ACAN Trustee Lesley Willis talked to Sandy, she was sorting through a large box of oranges in net bags. In each bag there might be one overripe orange which she removed to put in a bin for Mill Cottage Farm to feed to their animals. The aim is that nothing usable is wasted! The rest of the oranges could then be shared out in the boxes of food for delivery.

Quality matters – Sandy Marks, Community Cupboard Organiser, checks for overripe oranges

On 6 days of the week, 2 volunteers collect food from any supermarkets with unwanted items, sort it in the Scout Hut in Anstey Park, which they are using for no charge, and deliver it to the grateful families, couples or single people – all for free. The food includes bread and pastries, potatoes, carrots, aubergines, bananas, a variety of tins and dried goods and sometimes meat, cheese and eggs. There is often a bunch of flowers to go on the top of each box, to cheer up the recipients. The size of the family and any dietary needs are taken into account when packing the boxes.

Some shops in Four Marks are also contributors and it is hoped there will soon be a similar system to distribute food in that area.

And for the future?  Sandy would like to see a Community Cupboard in every town and village in the UK. Why not!

Email address:  altoncommunitycupboard@gmail.com.