CBS - Paradise Food Bank coordinator Faye Dawe said that despite the hardships created by the COVID-19 pandemic, residents of Conception Bay South and Paradise pulled through for the food bank during the holidays.
There was no Santa Claus Parade in either community this year, and thus no parade collections. But Dawe said that local Kin Clubs and Lion Clubs came together to collect for the food bank in lieu of the parade gatherings.
“It was fantastic, it was wonderful,” said Dawe, who said that donations of food and cash poured in from community groups of all stripes.
“Everybody got together, like the Brownies and Guides, even though they weren’t meeting, and the schools came forward and hockey teams and soccer teams and church groups and businesses,” said Dawe.
Christmas hampers were down slightly by about 30 or 40 hampers, according to Dawe, but the food bank still distributed 396 before closing shop for the holidays.
Meanwhile, a Conception Bay South resident said that the food banks annual three-week closure (which lasts from December 20 to January 5) inspired her to go ahead with a project she had been thinking about for some time.
Carla Crotty, who is creator of the Need Something, Got Something Facebook Page, which allows people from lower income brackets to access donations of furniture, clothing and household goods, proposed the idea of Little Free Pantries, an idea similar to the popular Little Free Libraries, in which patrons leave an item or take an item, depending on their need.
She said that upon hearing in December that the food bank closes for three weeks over Christmas and New Year’s, she decided it was time to act.
“That is a long time for a food bank to be closed. I don’t know what people did for that period of time,” said Crotty, who noted that she knew of folks who drove to Holyrood to drop off food donations at a late December food drive.
“When I realized that, a lightbulb went off. I said, I think I’m going to look into this pantry idea and see what kind of support members of the community have for the initiative.”
Crotty said she applauds the work done by food banks, but that the pantries could help those who may, for any number of reasons, have difficulty accessing food banks.
“Here in CBS, we face a particular issue of not having public transit,” said Crotty. “So, getting to food banks, or getting to outreach centres like The Gathering Place, is difficult if you don’t have a vehicle, or near impossible.”
Access can be hampered in other ways as well, said Crotty.
“You have to, often times, fit a certain box. So, you need to be below a certain income threshold. You often times have to provide identification proof, or residency proof. It’s not always just as easy as walking into a food bank and being given a food donation,” said Crotty.
Meanwhile, Faye Dawe, who said there are about six ‘full-time’ volunteers working at the food bank, clarified the pantry project is not connected to the food bank, and that the idea could work, although there would be challenges associated with maintaining the pantries, including snow clearing and potential freezing and thawing of food.
Crotty admits there would be difficulties, but feels that volunteers could easily handle the work.
“Our climate is a big challenge, especially this time of year,” she allowed. “And there needs to be a lot of oversight, making sure they’re cleared and that people can access them and making sure the food is always stocked, and ensuring that anything that spoils is taken out. And how you deal with those challenges is to rely on volunteers. If I didn’t think this could work in Conception Bay South, I wouldn’t even start. I was inspired by, and have been following two other little pantries that are in the metro area, and even though we are in the thick of winter here right now, they are managing quite well and having no trouble keeping their shelves stocked or with food spoilage or anything. So, as long as we have dedicated volunteers, we don’t need to worry about those sorts of things.”
Currently, Crotty is in discussion with various community partners about supporting the project, and said the 1st Topsail Venturers have committed to building two pantries, paying for the building supplies out of their own pockets. Those two will serve as a sort of pilot project.
No location has yet been selected, but over 100 people have voted in a social media poll which puts Kiwanis Club in Kelligrews and the Villanova Plaza in Manuels or Chamberlains Park in Chamberlains in the top spots.
The locations, said Crotty, must be safe, well lit and provide ample parking, with the ultimate goal to have a pantry in each borough of Conception Bay South.
Crotty hopes the first pantries might be ready by the end of January.
Mark Squibb, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Shoreline News