Community pantry and public art project planned for downtown Clifford

CLIFFORD – A new community pantry and art piece are being installed downtown to help address local food insecurity.

The idea for a community pantry came after food security and accessibility were identified as areas needing "some work" during the township's Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee said Caitlin Hall, a member of the committee and Minto Pride, which is participating in the initiative.

While food banks exist in Minto, Hall said a community food pantry is ideal because it acts as a safety net for those who rely on food banks, which can often only be used once a month, and is accessible to anyone, even those who don't qualify for assistance.

"I think more recently than ever there's a lot of people that are really living paycheck to paycheck," said Hall. "It's no secret that all costs are on the rise from rent, to grocery store prices so we've seen a lot of our people reaching out for extra help on community Facebook pages and at the food banks."

The pantry will be installed at Clifford Rotary Celebration Square on Elora Street so it's visible and accessible and will accept things like non-perishable food items and personal hygiene products said Hall.

Volunteers who can commit to occasionally monitoring the pantry for use and supplies are needed.

"The idea is having something accessible to anybody with the hope being anybody will feel free to use it," said Hall. "If you're in need of something, you're welcome to take it and if you have extra of something, you're welcome to leave it for somebody else."

The decision to install a pantry wasn't unanimous and a few community members "put up a fight" about it existing in Clifford which Hall said speaks to a bigger issue of residents' understanding of food insecurity and what exists in their community.

"I think it's easy to turn a blind eye or to have this not in my backyard approach, but the reality is, there's lots of people that need a service like this," said Hall. "There's no indication that offering something like a free pantry is going to drive people to flock to Clifford to access that service. It's more about supporting the people that are part of our community."

A Norwell District Secondary School student was recently selected to create a public art piece on the pantry that represents the town of Minto's characteristics while celebrating diversity and inclusion.

The DEI committee purchased the pantry and the Clifford Connects committee and Minto Pride will sponsor the art project, paying the artist and buying the materials.

It will be up to individuals to pop by and donate or share what they have but Hall said a service group has pledged money to operate the pantry and continue buying essentials for the first year.

A memorial plaque will also be installed at the pantry for Michael Martin, a committee member who championed the project but died in January before it was realized.

The pantry was originally proposed to be installed at the end of Martin's driveway so he could keep tabs on it and ensure it wasn't vandalized.

Hall said the hope is the pantry will be installed in mid-June and others are proposed in Harriston and Palmerston if the pilot pantry is successful.

The DEI committee plans to run community information sessions to answer any questions or concerns about the pantry closer to opening.

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

Isabel Buckmaster, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com