17 May 2023

Goulburn’s veranda pantry feeding the homeless and hungry

| John Thistleton
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woman at pantry

Leigh Pollack sorting out food in her community pantry. Photo: John Thistleton.

A simple idea to turn a home veranda into a community pantry to feed homeless people and others struggling with the rising cost of living is gathering momentum in Goulburn.

Early on foggy mornings at Usshers Lane, Leigh Pollack packs containers of freshly cooked baked dinners, soup or curries inside a small fridge on her veranda pantry. She gets up early, between 4:30 am and 5 am each morning, to cook the food.

Homeless people from empty railway sheds near Goulburn train station might call later for some tinned food. Everybody’s welcome. They don’t have to show their Medicare card or identification. So long as they need food and call between 9 am and 4 pm, they can help themselves.

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After helping others provide food during lockdowns due to COVID-19, Leigh decided to start afresh on her own with Usshers Lane Community Free Food and Children’s Pantry.

She began in September last year, appealing to people cleaning out their pantries ahead of holidays or moving house not to throw out sealed food items still in date, but to bring them to her community pantry.

“People started to donate,” she said. “They went to the supermarket and donated fruit and vegetables or fruit and veggies out of their garden. People were making pickles and jams. It snowballed from there.”

Today the pantry has tinned soups and food such as spaghetti, baked beans and pasta, long-life milk and long-life juice.

On the eve of Easter, a supermarket delivery truck arrived in the lane to deliver groceries from an anonymous donor. The driver unloaded enough food for a week, Leigh said.

“We have a couple of ladies who make sweets, chocolate crackles for kids’ lunch boxes,” she said.

A friend has left lots of green tomatoes from the garden for someone else to collect and turn into pickles.

Leigh posts requests for items she needs on her Usshers Lane Facebook group, which has more than 550 members, and other community Facebook groups.

“I come out at lunchtime, and there is usually a bag of groceries that have been donated on the veranda,” she said.

open fridge

This little bar fridge on the veranda is packed with home-cooked meals ready to go. Photo: John Thistleton.

Leigh trained as a nurse’s aide and has worked for healthcare providers for most of her adult working life.

“You get to know people, you know when people are doing it tough,” she said.

“I have met people of all ages, young mums, single mums, families and the elderly, and then yesterday, a lady I know said the police needed an emergency food hamper for a young mum with a family,” she said. Leigh gathered up some food in her break and left it out for the woman.

Welfare agencies are calling her for food when someone from out of town arrives in Goulburn with few resources.

Having downsized her home, Leigh does not have room for storing anything other than food but has the occasional donation of blankets and doonas.

“I had old doonas of mine which I didn’t need, they were clean and too good to put in the garbage bin,” she said. “I popped them on my little brown table there, with a sign ‘free’ and away they went.

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“I also have toiletries like the basic soaps, toothbrushes, toothpaste, sanitary items, baby formula still in date, unopened, nappies, baby food pouches.”

She accepts donations of plastic drink containers for recycling and uses the proceeds to stock up on food for the pantry.

At one stage, she grew tired of the routine of rising early, cooking and preparing the pantry, coinciding with her knee surgery, and stopped for a month.

“But I missed not having my pantry full, with people coming and going,” she said.

She is often surprised and touched by people like the anonymous man who left nappies, toiletries and food on her veranda.

“Some people in Goulburn have big hearts,” Leigh said.

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