Streetside pantry boxes spring up in Goderich to address local hunger

With the rising cost of living affecting more people in smaller centres, a Goderich woman has discovered a simple way to offer a critical service — access to food 24/7, seven days a week.

Avery Greaves has spearheaded what are believed to be the town’s first tiny free pantries as part of a global movement to support people struggling with food insecurity.

There is a common misconception this service is solely for those experiencing homelessness, said Greaves, who has worked in several community- and tourism-based roles in Huron County.

“While they certainly will be some of the clientele using this, they are not the only ones,” she said, noting the project will benefit everyone from seniors to young families and those living between paycheques.

The pantries are similar to the little take-a-book libraries found along roads or streets, only the tiny wooden boxes are stocked with food and toiletries. They operate on the honour system, meaning you leave items and sometimes take items as needed.

Born in the United States, the idea of creating a communal space to share basic items has gained popularity in Canada in recent years, albeit mostly in urban centres. Toronto is home to hundreds of the free pantries, while London has at least two, one at 593 Princess Ave. in the city’s Woodfield neighbourhood and the other at 124 Cavendish Cres. in the west end, according to the Little Free Pantry website.

“Usually in urban settings, there are a lot more supports, and are more easily accessible than in a rural setting,” noted Greaves, pointing to figures that suggest the need in rural and smaller centres like Goderich is there.

In Perth and Huron counties, nearly 60 per cent of people with incomes earn less than a living wage, figures from Perth-Huron United Way show. A study conducted by Huron County in November 2021 also found at least 170 people in the area were experiencing homelessness.

“Every little bit helps,” Myles Murdock, Goderich acting mayor and mayor-elect, said of the pantry project. “(The initiative) is just one more thing that helps with providing food for the people that either can’t afford it or can’t eat as well as others,” he said.

The food-sharing boxes can be found throughout the town of 8,000, at the tourism centre, Huron County Library and John O’Keefe Field.

Greaves said she consulted with the local food banks, the Salvation Army and the St. Vincent de Paul Society before selecting the locations. Both organizations occupy the southeast end of town, while the three pantries cover other quadrants, she said.

Her initiative, approved by Goderich council in August, involved efforts from every corner of the community. The posts used to mount the pantries were installed by town staff, and the plexiglass doors were donated by Fisher Glass and Mirror, a local window supplier.

A group of 21 volunteers will help monitor the pantries, and another 30 have distributed postcards that inform residents of the project and how they can donate.

Greaves's five-year wish to bring the Little Free Pantry movement to Goderich only recently became a reality after the 8-80 Cities not-for-profit selected her as one of 20 young Ontarians to receive $5,000 seed funding through the Ontario Community Changemaker program.

The hope, she said, is to see the project become entirely “community-driven.”

“We want to keep the momentum and passion that we have well into the future and meet the needs of our community in whatever way that is.”

Residents looking to learn more about how or what they can donate should visit www.goderichfreelittlepantry.com/donate.

cleon@postmedia.com

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The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada

Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press