The Free Store is a small grassroots non-profit that daily redistributes quality surplus food from 65 inner-city Wellington eateries freely and directly to those in need.
The Free Store was founded in November 2010 after an unlikely art project inspired a group of friends. Kim Patton, an artist from Auckland, set up a retail shop space stocked with food on the shelves. The peculiar difference being that customers could simply take the food for free. Patrons were intrigued, unsure and a little awkward. Surely I have to pay! The art project came and went within a matter of weeks yet a small group of Wellingtonians had their brains buzzing.
They discovered that some of the food in this shop was surplus fare sourced from local cafes at the end of the day so they asked the question: "What if there was a way to create a sustainable surplus food source for the community and to simultaneously solve the problems of food waste and poverty?"
Within 4 months, in November 2010, The Free Store first opened out of a surplus retail space on Wellington's iconic Cuba Street. After a year they were asked to move on. With zero money or funding to lease an inner-city commercial retail space they had to get very creative.
Benjamin, the remaining founder, set out to convert a rusty old 20-ft shipping container into a beautiful purpose-built store. Securing the pro bono support of a local architecture firm and builder, Benjamin brought together 20 businesses to supply all the materials and labour required to complete the fit-out. What would have been a $65,000 project cost a few hundred dollars.
It is a travesty that people in our street, neighbourhood and community go hungry when there is perfectly edible food that is wasted. The Free Store ensures that our inner-city dwelling friends have access to quality food where cost isn't a barrier. No questions asked and no strings attached.
The Free Store is an inclusive, safe space built on a foundation of mutual respect, generosity and friendship. Customers come from all walks of life including the homeless, unemployed, low-income, elderly, refugees and immigrants, students and those struggling with sickness, mental health and substance abuse issues and everyone is welcomed.
Each year The Free Store redistributes over 125,000 items of fresh food to 80-100 customers who visit each day. That's over $500,000 worth of food that doesn't go to waste annually! With over 500 volunteers on their database The Free Store is a volunteer-driven initiative. While it is a simple concept many hands are needed for smooth sailing each day. Volunteering is accessible, simple and flexible - making it an attractive and easy way for people from all walks of life to contribute meaningfully in their community.
To read more about The Free Store or to get involved visit www.thefreestore.org.nz