Food and Other Supplies Free for the Taking

By Pat Forrest

The weather is getting colder and the price of just about everything is going through the roof. That’s a bad combination for almost everyone, but especially for the city’s most vulnerable people.

A local good samaritan, appropriately named Sam, decided to do something about it.

“I saw people in our community being kind and generous and that inspired me to start this Little Free Pantry project. I hope that others will be motivated by what I’m doing and that support will grow,” she says.

With locations throughout Thunder Bay, the Little Free Pantry provides food and personal care items to anyone in need. The pantry is always open and works on an anonymous, give-and-take system. Anyone may take as much as they need, at any time. Sam manages the pantry on McKibbin between Bay Street and Beresford Street and helps stock and service the pantries on Cumberland Street (across from the Shell Station) and Leslie Avenue (opposite Claude E. Garton Public School). She says there are numerous other pantries across town and in our rural communities.

Donations can be left directly in the pantry. The personal items that are the most in demand include soap, deodorant, paper products such as toilet paper and tissues, diapers, wipes, and sanitary products. Top on the list of food items include boxed or bagged grains and pasta, cereal, granola, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and ready-made meals. Hats, gloves, and scarves are always needed in the colder weather, as are hand warmers.

The grassroots mini-pantry movement was launched in 2016 in Arkansas, with a wooden box on a post containing food, personal care and paper items accessible to everyone all the time, no questions asked. Sam says she was inspired by that initiative as well as other local projects that minimized red tape in helping those in need. She believes it’s also a great way to remind ourselves that people are struggling in all of our neighbourhoods, creating a space for compassion, trust, and mutual aid.

She says there are other ways to help besides donating items. “Even if you’re not able to support the project directly with food or funds, a great way to help is to ask your workplace if you can put a donation box at your site. This can help get the word out, recruit others, and help make a difference.”

Upcoming projects for Sam and her family and friends include finding a location to set up a refrigerator, and they’re also working on sourcing tents and sleeping bags and putting together care packages for the homeless. She says the projects make her feel sad but hopeful. “It can be heartrending but it’s also wonderful to hear from people we were able to help,” she says.

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