Food pantry in Sydney gets second chance from dedicated volunteers

·3 min read
Local carpenter Alan Fagan stands by the food pantry he built and installed in Sydney's Wentworth Park. (Tom Ayers/CBC - image credit)
Local carpenter Alan Fagan stands by the food pantry he built and installed in Sydney's Wentworth Park. (Tom Ayers/CBC - image credit)

The first community food pantry installed in downtown Sydney has fallen apart, but volunteers worried about those who do not have enough to eat have come together to rebuild it.

They are replacing it with a bigger and better cupboard, with a roof, lights and a refrigerator for perishables.

Alan Fagan, a self-employed carpenter who built the first cupboard, is gathering donations for the new and improved version.

"This is something very easy, very simple and very inexpensive for us to do, but we can help so many people," he said.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Fagan became worried about the effects of a lockdown on low-income neighbours.

"We just took stock of how good our lives were," he said. "Everything's looked after for us — our food, our heat, our lights. We're an average family. Sometimes we struggle, but most times we don't."

Fagan hung an old kitchen cupboard on a tree near the historic downtown convent and filled it with food and toiletries.

Volunteers have since kept refilling the pantry.

Erin Pottie/CBC
Erin Pottie/CBC

Fagan built two more in Sydney. The idea proved so popular that more than a dozen have sprung up across Cape Breton.

There are even a couple in Halifax and the original Northend Sydney Food Pantry has its own Facebook page, which is connected to a series of other pantries with their own volunteers.

"My social experiment, as I call it, is a whopping success," Fagan said.

"I think there's 350 members now, in excess of 15 to 17, 18 cabinets throughout Nova Scotia and I'm sure that's going to double and triple and quadruple over the years. Yeah, it's a good feeling."

But that first box went up 18 months ago. Time and weather took its toll.

"It succumbed to gravity and Mother Nature and it landed majestically on the sidewalk standing straight up with all the food still inside it," Fagan said.

Anonymity didn't last

He is now working on a temporary replacement and is gathering donations to install a permanent facility with an accessible concrete pad and electricity.

Fagan initially wanted to remain anonymous after putting up the first pantry box.

But word got out and now he's coming forward in hopes of having a wider impact.

However, Fagan said he has already surpassed the hopes he had when he first put up the pantry.

Tom Ayers/CBC
Tom Ayers/CBC

"People started driving by, like two, three, four cars in the run of a half an hour," he said.

"People were coming by with their children. Grandparents were coming by with their grandchildren, lifting them up and putting food in. It was a really good thing to teach your children, or teach anybody, that maybe just because of their life they don't think that by doing a little bit, they can help so much."

Fagan said it's sad that there is such a need in the community, but it makes him happy knowing that there are still many people who care about others.

'A really lovely mystery'

Erika Shea, president of New Dawn Enterprises, which owns the convent, said the first food pantry appeared out of the blue, but it was also obviously needed.

"It was a really lovely mystery, a lovely surprise to see it pop up in response to a feeling that food insecurity was becoming more of a problem in the pandemic," she said.

New Dawn, a social enterprise agency, welcomes a permanent facility on its grounds to help people facing food insecurity, Shea said.

"It's a really beautiful thing to see so many people step up and try to address such a sad situation."

The permanent cupboard is expected to be ready in October.

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