The Free Store: Free surplus food for all in Wellington, New Zealand

Shipping containers have provided a multitude of uses and services the world over. There’s been boutique hotels, pop-up shopping malls and cafes housed in these containers. Now a shipping container in Wellington, New Zealand is housing a free food service, The Free Store.

The Free Store redistributes quality, fresh surplus food from Wellington’s eateries directly to those in need. There are no conditions on who can come to The Free Store – anybody can come for whatever reason and take whatever they want.

The Free Store founder Benjamin Johnson says: “It is a travesty that people in our neighbourhood go hungry when there is perfectly edible food that is wasted. So long as the marginalised and vulnerable are problems to solve instead of friends to know, our community will remain divided.

“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. Anyone is welcome to partake in the bounty. The Free Store is an inclusive space built on a foundation of mutual respect, generosity and friendship.”

Around 65 cafes, bakeries, restaurants and catering companies donate their surplus food each day to The Free Store. The Free Store is also made possible through support from volunteers and donors.

The Free Store serves around 85-100 customers from all walks of life – including the homeless, unemployed, students and elderly – daily.

On average, 175,000 items of fresh quality food is redistributed annually by The Free Store.

New Zealand residents dispose of approximately $625 million worth of food (120,000 tonnes) each year. Globally, it is estimated that total food waste weighs up to 1.3 billion tonnes.

The Free Store originally began life in 2010 as an art project by Kim Paton. The artist set up a regular-looking shop stocked with food on the shelves, where visitors could simply take the food, which was surplus food sourced from local cafes, for free.

Inspired by the project, a group of friends decided to create a sustainable food supply that would become a permanent fixture in Wellington. The Free Store now has four locations throughout New Zealand, adapting their model and funding structure to fit each area.

Benjamin Johnson adds: “All you need is a space to operate from, surplus food, people who need the food and will come and take it, volunteers, and a committed group of people who can actually do it. There has to be local ownership. In every area where there’s a Free Store, there needs to be a deeply rooted community of people.”

The Free Store

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She is a writer who specialises in sustainable lifestyle and living, wellbeing, and entertainments. Rosa also works as a psychic, counsellor, intuitive reader and spiritual life coach helping people to become who they truly are and manifest their heart & soul’s desires into their lives: www.rosalindmedea.com

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