I visited a supermarket in Leeds where you can buy 12 items for just £3 - and I was blown away
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The past few years have been plagued with financial difficulties for families. The ‘social supermarket’ I visited this month was born out of the pandemic, when charity Holbeck Together saw food poverty on the rise.
Service development officer Matthew Springthorpe said: “During the pandemic, Leeds City Council did great work providing food parcels, but this supermarket helps people shop sustainably and more affordably. And now there is a new pandemic, that is the cost of living crisis.”
Located in St Matthew’s Community Centre is a makeshift supermarket which pools together a variety of food given to Holbeck Together by FoodShare and ReThink Food, among other local supporters including Northern Monk Brewery, Leeds Christian Community Trust and Leeds Community Anchor Network (LCAN) Household Support Fund.
The supermarket is at the back of the venue and features several shelves, a fridge and a freezer, which volunteers re-stock to ensure it serves up to 70 people a week. The customers wait patiently outside the supermarket for their turn, open weekly on Mondays from 1-4pm and on Thursdays from 9.30-2pm. Most tell me they come early and stand outside to get a good spot in the queue, despite the cold weather.
The late-comers are visibly worried, sharing that they feel as though they won’t be able to get what they need because they have arrived too late. Their concerns are put to ease by the volunteers, who assure them that there is enough food inside for everyone.
Looking ahead at the shelves, which Matthew tells me are always in need of donations, I wasn’t at first convinced that there would be enough for the queue but I soon understood why there was. It wasn’t until I picked up a basket myself that I recognised how far 12 items could take me and would only set me back £3 – and how much was still left for other people to take.
I had chosen a variety of food: breakfast muffins, a loaf of bread, salad leaves, a bottle of oat milk, a portion of frozen chips, a frozen pizza, onions, a tin of tomato sauce, a small bag of rice, a tin of soup, as well as chocolate and a share bag of Doritos. From the small selection of hygiene products available, which also included toothpaste, body wash and shampoo, I picked up two rolls of toilet paper and washing-up liquid.
Staring down at my basket which was now too heavy to hold with one hand, I told volunteer Judith Rhodes who helps the customers shop: “It’s crazy – some of these items would cost £3 on their own.”
Leaving the shop, I see a table with recipes to make easy food. This week, spaghetti bolognese was on the menu and customers received a pack of spaghetti, meat, a tin of bolognese sauce, and a baguette – free of charge.
A number of people tell me how grateful they are for a place like this, which also hosts coffee mornings, two course fish and chips lunch club and more, how much the supermarket can save them in the long run and how it has helped them to eat more cleanly.