Next Step Communities food pantry program offers work experience for Mount Druitt youth

Vicki Crawford, at the open pantry run in Blackett each week. All food is supplied by Food Bank. Picture: Isabella Lettini
Vicki Crawford, at the open pantry run in Blackett each week. All food is supplied by Food Bank. Picture: Isabella Lettini

While Vicki Crawford worked seven days a week to make her dream a reality, her life came crashing down around her.

In the year since Ms Crawford quit her job to start youth support organisation Next Step Communities, she lost her house and her car due to financial stress.

But she says she wouldn’t have it any other way as her fledgling group gains momentum in the Mount Druitt area. 

“It was a little bit heart-wrenching,” Ms Crawford said. “But I’ve come from a very privileged background. If I have to walk this path for a little while to understand what it’s like, so be it.”

The group’s open food pantry, run twice a week at Rutherglen Community Centre in Blackett, has attracted hundreds of disadvantaged families after being opened in July.

Not only does the program offer essential supplies at a discounted price, it gives local youth stuck in the work for the dole program real job experience.

In some areas of Mount Druitt including Blackett and Lethbridge Park, the youth unemployment rate sits at 26 per cent – more than double the national average. More than 60 young people have worked at the pantry this year.

“I’ve always been the type of person to kill two birds with one stone,” Ms Crawford said. “Our whole mission is to get communities looking after each other again.

“I want our job-seekers and our youth to reach their potential. This [the food pantry] is a vehicle to train up these guys.”

Blacktown mayor Stephen Bali, Vicki Crawford and Mount Druitt MP Edmond Atalla. Picture: Isabella Lettini

Blacktown mayor Stephen Bali, Vicki Crawford and Mount Druitt MP Edmond Atalla. Picture: Isabella Lettini

The program operates with a “Costco-style” membership system, where a $2 fee gives customers access to the pantry for a year.

For less than $30, families can take home enough meat, cereals, snacks and vegetables to last the week.

“The pantry is funding itself now,” Ms Crawford said.

“I think [memberships] eliminate those who want to take advantage of something like this. To take ownership gives you a sense of responsibility.

“It’s a dignity thing too. Although they come, they choose what they want, and their contributing towards something bigger.”

Mount Druitt MP Edmond Atalla and Blacktown Council helped the food pantry get off the ground by finding Ms Crawford a venue.

“Vicki approached me last year with the vision of establishing this program…now it’s become a reality,” Mr Atalla said.

“It’s a fantastic program. What they’ve done in such a short space of time...to have over 180 members, it shows Vicki is totally committed and she should be commended.

“She has made huge sacrifices to help this community.”