Little free pantries expand to meet growing need in southern Alberta

Amanda Bauer started the 'Feed the Need' project with one free pantry outside her home near downtown Lethbridge, but her boxes have now expanded across the city and to the neighbouring communities of Picture Butte and Fort Macleod as well.

8 boxes are now in Lethbridge, Picture Butte and Fort Macleod

Amanda Bauer started the 'Feed the Need' project in September and has been astounded by the demand for growth, she now has boxes open in Picture Butte and Fort Macleod as well. 0:43

Amanda Bauer was inspired to bring the Feed the Need Project to Lethbridge after seeing one of her friends do it in Saskatoon — and the expansion that's happened in the four months since has astounded her. 

"I've been pleasantly surprised at how quickly this has expanded and why people are jumping on board ... they understand that this is just a little piece of good in the world," Bauer said.  

The project involves little pantry boxes being placed in easily accessible places.

The first box was placed in front of Bauer's house along 13 Street South, a high-traffic road in the city.

The box is then filled with some of life's necessities — food, mitts and hats, toothbrushes, deodorant, feminine hygiene products, and so on. 

The sign on the front of the box reads: "Take what you need, leave what you have."

Bauer put up the first pantry in September last year. Since then, seven other people have asked for boxes to expand the project.

Two of those boxes are now in the neighbouring communities of Picture Butte and Fort Macleod. 

Bauer supplies the pantry boxes, but then it's up to the community to stock them. She does a lot of the heavy lifting for the pantry in her own front yard, filling it once a day. 

"It really is about knowing that somebody somewhere is going to get some help immediately — and anonymously," she said. 

"There are no questions about who you are if you're using this. There are no requirements."

Bauer's free pantries even inspired women in Calgary to bring free pantries to that city a month later

Filling a gap in what people need

Bauer says she sees all kinds of people dipping into the box, from people living at the city's shelters, to kids who are walking home from school hungry. 

Two food banks operate in Lethbridge, but Bauer thinks that these free pantries fill a particular gap — from the people who struggle with needing to go to a food bank, to those who have nowhere to cook the food provided to them by other services.

"I have friends in that situation, unfortunately ... and they told me going to the food bank were some of the hardest experiences they've ever had. And I know I've had to choose between paying my bills and buying food, and those are very scary moments," Bauer said.

"So for anyone who is there, or beyond that, that's what this is for."

A growing project for a growing need

Jennifer Lepko, the CEO of the YWCA in Lethbridge, says she's seeing a similar demand for all of the services the YWCA offers, from low-income housing to emergency shelter. 

"We do know that all of the services in the city are strained. We are seeing a reduction in giving, people are keeping their pocketbooks a little closer," Lepko said.

"All of our programming is expanding. Huge numbers. Numbers that we have not seen before."

Lepko says it's important for the community to work together, to avoid a doubling up of efforts and resources — but that she also thinks it's important for people to chip in wherever they see a need. 

"I think what she's doing is fantastic and I just think watching the community come together ... is pretty amazing."

About the Author

Sarah Lawrynuik is a freelance journalist based in Calgary. Sarah has worked for CBC in Halifax, Winnipeg and Calgary before deciding to travel as a freelancer, reporting from different corners of the world including France, Hungary and Iraq.