Riverview community pantry aims to help feed those in need

·3 min read
Kerice Douglas and Melissa Scribner are part of the team of students at the New Brunswick Community College who started a food pantry in Riverview. It offers a place where people in need can come pick up food at any time, without judgment. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC - image credit)
Kerice Douglas and Melissa Scribner are part of the team of students at the New Brunswick Community College who started a food pantry in Riverview. It offers a place where people in need can come pick up food at any time, without judgment. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC - image credit)

A brightly-coloured cabinet in Riverview is now piled high with everything from cereal to soup as a new resource for those struggling to put food on the table.

The community pantry is a project launched by a team of New Brunswick Community College students, who partnered with the town to pick a location and have it installed.

Student Melissa Scribner suggested the idea to her Orientation to Community Service class after seeing a video on TikTok of a similar pantry in British Columbia. Her classmates were on board with the initiative.

"Food insecurity right now is a huge deal," she said. "It's going on everywhere – we just might not know about it."

Community fridges and pantries have taken off across Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic, as a way to help neighbours struggling to keep up with a rising cost of living.

Prices at grocery stores increased by more than seven per cent last year, driving an increase in people looking for help at New Brunswick's food banks.

The goal of the Riverview pantry is to offer a place where people in need can come pick up food they need any time, without judgment. It's centrally located outside the Webb Vance Memorial Field on Whitepine Road, which can be easily reached by public transit, car or on foot.

WATCH / Community pantry catching on in Riverview

Since the pantry was installed April 14, it has filled up quickly with donations of canned and packaged goods from community members.

Scribner said the pantry has also been stocked with other items people might need, including baby products, pet food and personal hygiene products. She hopes the concept will inspire other community groups to start similar pantries.

"A lot of people right now are probably struggling and if they can take a few extra dollars to put in their gas tank to go to work, [rather] than spending it on that bottle of formula, or that bag of diapers, then why not have an extra $20 to go to work," she said.

The team behind the pantry is a group of students in the Social Services Community Worker program. They have built up a stockpile of food for the project and have signed up for shifts to keep it regularly filled during the summer.

Alexandre Silberman/CBC
Alexandre Silberman/CBC

Kerece Douglas, an international student from Jamaica, said the idea is something she'd like to see in her home country.

"Because of where it is, it's so anonymous. You don't feel pressure to hide because some people are sensitive to wanting to take food in front of people, even going to the food bank," she said.

Instructor Jodi Copeland Ayles said the pantry's location is discreet and there are no barriers to access such as transportation or having to fill out paperwork at a food bank.

"With the prices rising, and things costing so much more, including rent and gas, we really felt that at the end of the week you might not have anything in your cupboard," she said. "This is a place where you won't need to go hungry, you can always come and get what you need."

Alexandre Silberman/CBC
Alexandre Silberman/CBC

Copeland Ayles said she keeps track of what items are taken and being used, with pasta, cereals and canned goods frequently picked up. Two groups have already reached out to ask about starting their own pantries.

"We're really excited that the community seems to have embraced the pantry because every time we come it's overflowing with so many donations," she said.

As students restocked the pantry last week, Sheldon MacLeod stopped by to donate boxes of macaroni and cheese. The president of the Albert County Food Bank in Riverview said it will help bridge a gap between existing supports.

"This here is going to fill a hole for a family that maybe just needs two more days before their appointment at the food bank," he said.

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