Community food pantries coming to three Wellington County libraries

WELLINGTON COUNTY – A new county-wide pilot project aims to use libraries as another access point for residents experiencing food insecurity.

Endorsed during an Information, Heritage and Seniors committee meeting earlier this week, a new pilot project between the Wellington County Libraries (WCL), the Smart Cities office, and a local community agency already providing food access will see community food pantries installed at WCL branches in Elora, Palmerston and Arthur.

Intended to offer an additional community access point with a "comfortable level of privacy and dignity" at a location where residents "already feel welcome," county staff said the pilot project will be available six days a week during library open hours and will offer a variety of non-perishable food items and personal care products.

"Libraries have a public reputation for sharing without judgment or stigma and are open almost every day, which is why local food access groups are eager for this collaboration," said staff in a report on the project.

According to the report, offering additional community access points is important in the face of rising rent, food prices and other bills, especially when "perceived stigma" can discourage residents from using one of the county's eight food bank locations or other groups providing meals.

A study in the report said the estimated cost for a household of four people in Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph to eat healthy in 2023 was $311.61 per week, compared to $272.67 per week in 2022. This represents a 14 per cent increase.

All pantry locations will be chosen with user anonymity in mind and monitored by library staff for responsible use.

"I think it's a wonderful idea because the library is open to all and there's no stigma when you walk through that door," said County Coun. Mary Lloyd, during the meeting. "So whoever uses this pantry is not seen as going there for that service, it just looks like they're going to the library."

While community donations will be welcome in a "clearly marked" donation bin placed on the bottom shelf of the pantry, the report said the food access organization will be responsible for examining the donated items regularly, stocking the pantry and tracking statistics.

Only clean, undamaged, unexpired non-perishable items in sealed containers will be accepted at the pantries and if a donation doesn't meet requirements it will be removed for use elsewhere in the community.

Success will be tracked through the number of items offered and will be evaluated after a year.

Staff said the pilot is not anticipated to impact the library budget.

A report with more information about opening dates and more will come to the committee at a future date.

Isabel Buckmaster is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for GuelphToday. LJI is a federally-funded program.

Isabel Buckmaster, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com