An Aberdeenshire community food larder used by hundreds of people every month has been forced to close due to the rapidly increasing cost of living.
The Haven in Stonehaven was one of the first charities in the north-east to introduce the idea of a community space where anyone in food poverty can find support.
Unlike a foodbank, the larder is open to everyone without requiring a referral or giving personal details, and people can choose as many items as often as they require.
It has been a life-line for those struggling to make ends meet for more than three years, providing food and other basic household supplies to 550 local families each month.
However, a myriad of factors – including a rise in operational cost, the jump in food prices and lack of government funding – has made the initiative no longer feasible.
Two staff roles will also be made redundant as a result.
The charity’s founder and chief-executive Starkeeper Morton said this is a huge hit for her and all Haven Helpers who have been working day and night for the community.
“Our volunteers are really exceptional,” she said.
“Most of them came from being larder members – people who had benefited from the service, who believe in what we are doing and want give back. And so, they are absolutely devastated.”
‘Devastating blow to the community’
The Haven community food larder opened in 2020 in response to the increase demand for food supplies and other support during the pandemic.
Later that year, it teamed up with Co-Op, Tesco and several other local businesses to help reduce food waste and keep the shelves stocked up.
But Mrs Morton said that even that has now dropped, and the two tonnes they receive on a monthly basis is no longer enough to feed the 1279 people supported by the larder.
She fears the closure of the larder means people who do not qualify for food provision will have nowhere else to go.
In addition, those who already use foodbanks and still find it hard to put food on the table will lose access to fresh produce and face-to-face support.
Mr Morton added: “We are still continually astonished at how many new members we have showing. On average, there is maybe about a 7% monthly increase in terms of our visits.
“For me personally, it’s very frustrating. We are seen as being innovative and everybody appreciates us, and yet none of that is being met with the funds we need to continue to deliver.
“And hand on heart, we have exhausted all possible avenues. The only last thing we can do is to close.”
The Haven will continue to support the Stonehaven community
Mrs Morton said they remain determined to offer support to those most vulnerable in the community – even though they might have to change the way they operate.
She said: “We’ve developed really trusting relationships with the community and that takes a long time to nurture and build.
“But now that we have that, we can look at how to move forward in a positive way and figure out how we can support them – even if it is in a different way.
“Still, the most important thing for us remains to try and fill people with hope.
“We have demonstrated what is possible when a community comes together in a compassionate and cohesive way – and hopefully that will be our legacy.”