‘There’s always a need’: Little free pantries hope to feed Vancouver’s hungry

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Vancouver has joined a number of cities across North America to host a grassroots movement aiming to get free food to those who need it.

Several “little free pantries” have popped up around the city, offering free food and period products to anyone who wants it.

“We just thought it’s so important to supplement what’s happening, and ensure there’s another way for people to access food that’s low barrier, where they can come and go any time they want, and there’s no questions,” said Amal Rana, who helped organize one of the pantries in the Marpole neighbourhood.

Rana was inspired to start the project after witnessing a multi-hour lineup every week outside her local church, which acts as a food bank distribution point.

“We’re asking people to think about what people in the community might need. Period products, other personal care products, food that doesn’t have a perishable date,” added co-organizer Erv Newcombe.

“We want people to take what you need, give what you can, and that’s pretty much it … No policing, no shaming. That’s an important aspect of this — to build dignity and retain dignity.”

The pair say community members regularly come to fill the pantry, often with food reflecting the diversity of the neighbourhood — like matzah during Passover.

“Years and years ago when I first moved into the neighbourhood as a young person I was in the same situation and I might not have come to a (food bank) line up, but I may have come to a pantry, have some privacy, grab some pads, things that I needed that cost a lot of money,” Rana said.

Across the city on Victoria Drive, another pantry — this one with a fridge for fresh items — has sprung up under the moniker of the Vancouver Community Fridge Project.

“There’s always need for food, especially food that is nutritionally dense, fresh food is often hard to come by for folks, especially in the winter it becomes really expensive to get fresh vegetables,” Akanee Yamaki told Global News.

“Especially with COVID, lots of folks lost their jobs, money is tight. Even without COVID, it’s always needed. Everybody needs food and it’s a human right.”

Yamaki said she and co-organizers had been inspired to create a food source without the restrictions that come along with organizations like the food bank, such as government-issued ID and proof of address.

“It’s also 24/7,” added co-organizer Mary Kelly.

“This one, in particular, you can come and access at 3 a.m.”

Geoff Berner, whose east side property the pantry is on, said the local neighbourhood house and church have started helping support the fridge and pantry.

He said the reaction has been all positive so far.

“It’s a great way to get people together, dismantle capitalism, meet your neighbours, you know? It’s pretty fun. Everybody’s been terrific,” he said.

“Nobody ever takes it all. They always leave some for others. And I really think that’s touching. A lot of times people come in the night because they want their privacy, and that’s great.”

You can find out more about the Vancouver Community Fridge Project on its Instagram page.

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