Soup Vans launch mobile pantry service

New mobile pantry service launched

Unlike our traditional night-time soup vans, this program runs during the day and involves loading one of our vans to the brim with store-cupboard food, fruit and veg, eggs, frozen meat, toiletries and household products, and taking it out to locations where people can take what they need for free. The service was developed with knowledge born in the pandemic.

Prior to COVID-19, our soup vans were a well-known presence on Melbourne’s streets every night serving soup, sandwiches, pies, quiches and fruit.

“It was all ‘eat today food’,” says Melissa Walton, State Soup Van Manager. “But when the pandemic hit, we had to adapt to packing and delivering ‘hampers’ – supermarket shopping bags full of groceries and fresh veg – and leaving them on people’s doorsteps.”

After restrictions eased and the soup vans returned to the streets, Vinnies surveyed people using the service and the feedback was that many people with cooking facilities liked getting the hampers and being able to cook for themselves.

"The mobile pantries are the bridge between what we were doing before where people were coming to us for food to eat that night – and the hampers.

"The difference with the mobile service is that people are now not limited to what we can put into one or two supermarket shopping bags and deliver to them,” says Melissa. “They can come and choose what they need. That element of choice and agency is very important.”

Vinnies was also aware that some people were not accessing the soup vans because they had anxiety issues or did not feel safe out at night. “So the day-time service is answering those people’s needs,” says Melissa.

Now the soup vans run a combination of all three delivery modes. Some hampers are still dropped to people in areas where services are limited or if they have dietary or mobility issues, the mobile pantries go out regularly and our traditional soup van services are still out every night. The mobile pantry was launched in the inner city and has now started in Berwick, running monthly, serving around 100 people each time. The stops include a train station and shopping centre carpark, as well as a boarding house and women's refuge.

Tessie, lead volunteer at Berwick, says: “The women's refuge is at the end of our route so we give them everything we have left and they're really happy with that. Many have come to the refuge with nothing but their children and the clothes they were wearing. We have also been sourcing baby clothes and nappies for them.

“I was worried that we may not get enough volunteers for the day-time service, but actually I had lots of interest and it suits some people better. We need more volunteers for the night-time soup van runs though too, and always welcome new ‘Vannies’.”

Demand for the Berwick Soup Van service that goes out twice weekly has increased by 39% in the past year.

"The demographic has changed too in that more large families are using the service,” says Tessie. "We are so busy. We leave with the van absolutely full. We're making double the sandwiches, double the meals we did from earlier this year.”

Demand doubled during the pandemic and continues to rise. Last year, we served 600,000 meals across all eight hubs.

People using the mobile pantry in Berwick say the service has made a real difference, especially during the cost of living crisis, saving them up to $50 a week on groceries.

Jimmy, who has health issues, has been a familiar face at the soup van for 13 years and is now using the mobile pantry.

“There’s a lot of food in there,” he says, pointing to his basket full of groceries. “God knows what that would have cost at the supermarket. It means I’ve got extra money in my pension because Vinnies has provided me with eggs, milk, cereal and lots of other food. When the rent goes up, and the electricity and gas, I can manage. It all adds up, so this really helps.”

Vinnies’ Mobile Pantry stops

Inner City - Every Monday

  • 2.00-3.00pm at Clayton Reserve Fenced Dog Park, corner Boundary Rd & Macaulay Rd, North Melbourne. 

Berwick – The first Tuesday of every month. At the follow times and locations: 

  • 11.00am-11.15am: Wilson St, Berwick 
  • 11.30-11.45: Narre Warren Station 
  • 12.00-12.30pm: Hampton Park shops 
  • 12.45-1.00pm: Lyall Street bus stop 
  • 1.15pm-1.30pm: Ketnor Street, Cranbourne