The People’s Pantry markets opens its stall to help save waste and tackle hunger

Michelle Wemyss has launched the People's Pantry NE to help those in need and save food and other items from the landfill.
Michelle Wemyss has launched the People's Pantry NE to help those in need and save food and other items from the landfill.

A Washington mum is helping to fill empty tums and cupboards with the launch of a community project which saves tonnes of waste from heading for the bin.

Michelle Wemyss says her People’s Pantry project is driven by her own experiences as a single mum-of-four struggling to get by.

Bread, snacks and drinks are offered through the People's Pantry project.

Bread, snacks and drinks are offered through the People's Pantry project.

Held at Columbia Community Centre and Washington Mind in her home town, she rallies round 21 supermarkets to collect all the food and other items which would otherwise be sent to the landfill to offer through a market.

She is also running a delivery service to around 20 households and has plans in the pipeline for a series of other activities in time, once the service has had time to get fully up and running following its launch last weekend.

Michelle, 40, who is mum to Liam, 17, Tyler, 15, Mason, 11, and Charlotte, six, has set up the Community Interest Company (CIC) using her experience for working for a similar scheme elsewhere in the region and will apply for funding to cover her costs.

All she asks of those who visit her collection points is they make a donation to help pay for the petrol she uses to visit partner supermarkets - which include the Co-op, Tesco and is soon to welcome Asda and Morrisons - and reach homes where a drop off is needed.

If I’d had the help there is available now, it would have been great, and it’s the most joyous thing in the world to know you’re helping others.

Michelle Wemyss

In addition to fresh produce, long life goods and bread, items including toiletries and sanitary products are also collected to give to those in need and she will soon be welcoming volunteers to help the project thrive.

She said: “It’s not a foodbank, so you don’t need to be referred or anything like that, but we get all sorts of people coming in.

“We have single mums and people getting by until they get paid, who need food and help getting fruit and vegetables, and all we ask is for a donation because we’re a non-profit organisation and there’s a lot of running all over to collect.

“We’re trying to get rid of hospital hunger, where families are looking after sick children, and it is good for bringing people together and dealing with social isolation, but it’s also good to be able to use the food.

Fruit and vegetables which would have been binned are donated by supermarkets to support the project.

Fruit and vegetables which would have been binned are donated by supermarkets to support the project.

“I’ve been there, I was on my own with four young children and if I had something like this, it would have made a huge impact on my life, so it’s the most overwhelming, awesome feeling to know you’re helping people.

“If I’d had the help there is available now, it would have been great, and it’s the most joyous thing in the world to know you’re helping others.”

The People’s Pantry runs from Columbia Community Centre on Mondays and Saturday and Washington Mind on Thursdays and Fridays, all from 11am until 12.30pm.

For more information visit its People’s Pantry NE Facebook page.