28 April 2023

Ngunnawal Street Pantries to close down unless exemption provided by government, say organisers

| Travis Radford
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Ngunnawal Street Pantries with Paul and Margaret McGrath pictured out front.

Ngunnawal Street Pantries operates out of Paul (left) and Margaret (right) McGrath’s home in residential Ngunnawal. Photo: Travis Radford.

Paul and Margaret McGrath have run Ngunnawal Street Pantries out of their home for the last four years, but they say they will have to shut it down unless the ACT Government takes action.

The husband and wife team run the community pantry out of the front yard of their Ngunnawal home, with a marquee and garden shed installed to protect excess items that don’t fit in their garage.

But their front-of-house arrangement has been the subject of complaints requiring the McGraths to submit a development application to continue using their current set-up.

The McGraths said they were told the shed, in particular, built in 2020 to store special items for victims of domestic violence or others needing to start over, required development approval.

They submitted a development application in April 2021 after the first complaint but the planning authority requested more information and the application has since lapsed.

“For our own mental health, we don’t need to keep fighting with people, and so the quickest and easiest thing would be for there to be an exemption given to us,” Mr McGrath said.

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Before the latest complaint, the couple had fundraised over $2000 to install screening and an undercover area in their front yard to replace a make-shift gazebo and tarpaulins.

However, these plans have been stalled after the McGraths were advised that, in light of the latest complaint, development approval would also be needed for these improvements.

“There’ll be nothing wrong when it’s done. It’ll look very nice, and then I guarantee that as soon as we stopped doing the pantries, it’ll all be removed,” Mr McGrath said.

The shed which has been subject to complaints.

The McGraths’ front yard shed, which has been the subject of complaints, has been used to store items for people needing to start over completely. Photo: Travis Radford.

People line up at Ngunnawal Street Pantries four nights a week for fresh food donated by local businesses, clothing and a range of other household items – all free of charge.

The McGraths said more people had already been coming because of increased cost-of-living pressures, which they expect the approaching Winter season to worsen.

“People are struggling to work out, ‘Do I buy my medicine or food this week? Or do I buy petrol or food? Or feed my pets or myself?'” Mr McGrath said.

“All those different big decisions people are making, if you have to make them week after week and pay after pay, it starts to wear you down mentally.”

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Ms McGrath said the street pantry could prevent people from having to make these decisions and, in doing so, relieve some pressure on larger organisations.

“I had a lady the other day, she did all her shopping but she forgot to buy nappies and there was no money left, so she got on to me and I was able to give her some,” she said.

Ms McGrath said the street pantry was unique in that it could provide immediate short-term or one-off help to people without needing them to fill out any paperwork.

Paul McGrath in front of the fresh food offered by the street pantry.

The street pantry receives fresh food from local businesses’ end-of-day stock, which would otherwise be thrown away. Photo: Travis Radford.

The philosophy behind the street pantry is ‘give when you can, take when you need’, with community at the centre of its circular waste-reducing model.

“It’s become a real community hub. It’s a safe space for people from all different walks of life and all different situations,” Mr McGrath said.

“The beauty of what we do that the charities can’t do is that we ‘walk with them’ and we think there’s a massive mental health benefit.”

Ngunnawal Street Pantries

‘Give when you can, take when you need’. Photo: Travis Radford.

But the pair said they couldn’t run Ngunnawal Street Pantries indefinitely and called on the ACT Government to explore building upon the model.

“Government can only do so much, big charities can only do so much, but there’s so much more that can be done at the community level,” Ms McGrath said.

“It just needs someone to step into that role, look at what’s look at what the community’s doing, and see how they can keep that going and facilitate that.”

Original Article published by Travis Radford on Riotact.

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