(Facebook)

Little Free Pantries spring up to help tackle food insecurity in Canada

Researchers estimated food prices will rise between 1.5 and 3.5 per cent this year

A little white box, the size of a kitchen cupboard, with a glass door sits atop a post in Melissa Rafael’s front yard in Toronto. Sometimes people stop by to stock it with food and sometimes visitors leave with some boxes, cans or toiletries tucked in a bag or under their arm.

Rafael erected her little free pantry about two years ago as part of a growing movement to help neighbours struggling with food insecurity. Several such pantries have already popped up around Canada and while they do offer some relief to those unable to afford a meal, some say it isn’t the most effective way to feed the hungry.

“I wanted something simple that you can access any time,” said Rafael, who needs to refill her pantry more frequently depending on the time of year — sometimes as often as once a day. She buys some of the dry goods and toiletries herself, and puts out calls on neighbourhood social media groups for donations from others.

The inability to afford food is a problem for many people living in Canada.

People visited Canadian food banks nearly 1.1 million times in March 2018, according to Food Banks Canada’s most recent hunger count. Food banks served nearly 5.7 million meals and snacks that month.

Chris Hatch, CEO of the charitable organization, said those numbers have remained relatively stable over the years.

“It’s not getting better is the bottom line,” he said.

Some blame lies with the cost of food. Researchers estimated food prices will rise between 1.5 and 3.5 per cent this year, according to an annual report, with vegetables outpacing all other categories with a four to six per cent anticipated jump. Meanwhile, food purchased from stores rose in price four per cent from May 2018 to May 2019, according to Statistics Canada’s most recent data, with a 16.7 per cent jump in fresh vegetable costs.

Jessica McClard started the Little Free Pantry project with a pilot pantry in May 2016 in Arkansas outside of her church to help tackle food insecurity in her area where she said there’s a lot of hidden need.

The Little Free Library project served as her inspiration. The non-profit organization started in 2009 with a miniature replica of a single-room schoolhouse storing books for others to take for free. The “take a book, leave a book” concept has since grown to over 80,000 little libraries in 91 countries, including Canada, according to its website.

She felt that could be a good model to eliminate some of the shame people may feel around needing help.

“Everybody goes up to the project the exact same way — whether you’re putting food in or taking food out. So no one knows what position you’re in,” she said.

McClard stocked the pantry with diapers, cereal, peanut butter, feminine hygiene products, and other toiletries and food items. She snapped a photo, shared it on social media and watched the interest grow.

Now, there are more than 650 such pantries in several countries, including several in Canada, according to a map on the project’s website. But that only includes pantries where the steward added their pantry online, and McClard believes there are many more she doesn’t know about.

ALSO READ: ‘eHarmony of food’: Website matches up businesses and charities to reduce waste

Most of Rafael’s neighbours and passersby react positively, she said, and she’s even received thank you notes from folks who have relied on her pantry in the past.

One or two naysayers expressed concerns over the possibility of the pantry drawing ill-intentioned people to the area, she said, but nothing bad has ever happened.

But not all experiences have been so positive. The Harmony Church in Brantford, Ont., shuttered its pantry after about a year and a half, said Ruth Bond in an email.

Vandalism played a role in that decision, said Bond, adding the door was ripped off its hinges twice.

But the congregation also couldn’t keep up with demand and felt they couldn’t monitor equitable distribution of donations, she said, with reports of one woman stopping by every night to fill up her cart with the pantry’s contents. The congregation now sends its food donations to the local food bank instead.

At least one Canadian food bank in Mississauga, Ont., put up a little pantry to help people access food during off hours, said Hatch.

“Having another source of food for those that need emergency food, it can’t hurt,” he said.

But these types of pantries are still relatively rare, he noted, adding he’s only aware of the one in Mississauga, a city of more than 700,000 people, according to the 2016 census.

Food banks also offer other benefits these pantries can’t provide. Patrons receive fresh food and dairy products, he said, rather than just non-perishable items. Food banks also connect people with other social services.

“It’s not going to — I think — give them the quality of the food, the frequency of the food that they typically need that you get out of a full-service food bank.”

Aleksandra Sagan, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

The buoys are back in town

Watershed Wanderings column by Lake Windermere Ambassadors

Invermere council okay with ‘reverse grad march’ idea

Nothing finalized and complications aplenty, but Invermere council agrees to grad march idea

101-year-old man targets 101 block fundraising walk for food bank

A centenarian in Invermere has embarked on a new adventure to raise money for the food bank.

Wings Over the Rockies encourages nature viewing during pandemic

Three local photographers and Wings supporters offer nature viewing tips.

Hospital chief of staff provides guidance on COVID-19 and the Columbia Valley as we open up

Chief of staff says: “COVID-19 … is still here and is not going away any time soon.”

Only four new COVID-19 cases, 228 active across B.C.

Health officials watching as activities ramp up

Feds looking at ways to reunite families amid COVID-19 border restrictions with U.S.

Some families with members of dual-citizenship have become separated due to the pandemic

‘I knew what he wanted’: Man recalls black bear chasing him up tree in Slocan Valley

Francis Levasseur is no stranger to the outdoors, but a recent run-in with a bear caused quite a scare

COVID cancelled their wedding plans, so they married on a BC mountaintop

Ceremony was live streamed to friends and family around the world

Introducing the West Coast Traveller: A voyage of the mind

Top armchair travel content for Alaska, Yukon, BC, Alberta, Washington, Oregon and California!

Trudeau acknowledges racial unrest in U.S.; ‘We also have work to do in Canada’

‘Anti-black racism, racism, is real; it’s in the United States, but it’s also in Canada,’ Trudeau says

Large cruise ships barred from Canadian waters until end of October: Garneau

Last year 140 cruise ships brought more than two million visitors to Canadian ports

Minneapolis cop who knelt on man’s neck charged with murder

Arrest comes after three days of protests, which escalated in violence as demonstrators torched a police precinct

Police watchdog recommends charges against five Mounties in Prince George man’s death

Police used pepper spray on the man, who then had trouble breathing before dying at the scene

Most Read