New addition to NDG street life makes it easier for neighbours to lend a helping hand

A Montreal woman has made it easier for NDG residents to help each other by donating non-perishable foods to a communal pantry, installed on Sherbrooke Street in front of Epicerie Moderne.

Homemade community pantry on Sherbrooke Street operates on the honour system

Residents are encouraged to leave non-perishable food in this pantry outside Épicerie Moderne, so those in need can pick up what they need. (Submitted by Nikki Klein Tsantrizos)

A new fixture on Sherbrooke Street in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce is helping fight food insecurity in the neighbourhood. It's a community pantry that everyone can contribute to — or turn to, if they need.

It was created by local resident Nikki Klein Tsantrizos, concerned about the effects of the pandemic on families in the area.

Neighbours are invited to leave non-perishable foods in the wooden cabinet — and anyone who needs something can swing by and grab it. Some residents have also been leaving behind other necessities, like baby formula, diapers and toothbrushes.

"Residents can use it at their discretion. They can access the food when they need it, 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Klein Tsantrizos said.

"They don't have to sign up. They don't have to qualify for the help. They don't have to ask for help. It's really about neighbours helping each other."

Klein Tsantrizos has three children and wanted to do something after meeting other mothers in the neighbourhood who were worried they did not have enough food to put in their kids' lunchboxes.

"If you're a parent and you know what it means to love your kids the way that parents do — to want the best for them —then you can't help but feel compelled to want to make sure that other kids don't go hungry and that other families aren't feeling that stress and that burden," she said.

She is hoping the community pantry can act as a supplemental resource for those who are experiencing food insecurity, especially during the pandemic, which has so many people struggling financially.

"If you're not affected by it personally, you can sort of go on with your life and put your blinders on and not really think too much about it," said Klein Tsantrizos. "But when you do start to think about it, it's inevitable that you're going to have an emotional response and want to do something."

Klein Tsantrizos, centre, says her three children helped set up and fill in the pantry. (Submitted by Nikki Klein Tsantrizos)

Higher demand at food shelters

Daniel Rotman, the executive director at the Depot Community Food Centre in NDG, says the demand for emergency food baskets at his organization has been higher since the beginning of the pandemic -- but that not everyone who needs help asks for it.

"One out of every four people who need emergency food access do go to food banks, and many of the reasons why people do not go is stigma," said Rotman, citing statistics from before the pandemic.

The depot has been working to break that stigma by treating people with dignity and respect, he said, but it's still a challenge.

"People who are currently living in situations of poverty aren't defined by that fact, but the stigma is definitely something that we fight every day."

Passing down community values

For Klein Tsantrizos, the project has been a family-and-neighbours affair: her husband built the pantry, her mother helped paint the back, and her children helped paint the shelves and stock the pantry with food items.

She hopes the project will help teach her kids the values of sharing, being part of the community and helping others -- values she says she learned from her mother, who helped any neighbour who needed a hot shower and a meal.

Others have also expressed an interest in the pantry, Klein Tsantrizos said, and some are even planning on building more of the units in the area.


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