Fredericton Pride program aims to improve local food security
Program provides free vegetables to LGBTQ community members on a weekly basis
Visitors to downtown Fredericton's LGBTQ community centre and nightclub Monarch know the space as an inclusive bar where they can sing their favourite songs and dance the night away — but on Wednesday afternoons, they can also swing by to grab their groceries.
It's part of the Pride Produce Pantry, one of several ongoing programs offered by Fierté Fredericton Pride this year. LGBTQ community members are encouraged to visit the space every Wednesday from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. to pick from a range of varying fresh produce, free of charge.
"Food and community are intimately linked," said Amelia Thorpe, who started the pantry program with her partner in 2021.
"During the pandemic in particular, we saw that there was a very evident increase in social isolation experienced by 2SLGBTQ+ individuals in this region, and beyond and we also were seeing the ways … the pandemic had further exacerbated food insecurity among queer, transgender and non-binary populations."
Program aims to limit local food insecurity
The group wanted to develop a community-focused program prioritizing LGBTQ community members' access to locally grown produce.
Using funds raised through the non-profit volunteer-run organization's grants, fundraising and community donations, money is spent each year to buy community supported agriculture (CSA) shares from Hayes farm, located right outside Fredericton's Devon neighborhood.
All vegetables and fruits are grown by the farm's regenerative farming certificate (RFC) program with a goal to improve local food security.
"Everything about it is wonderful to me," said Vee Mariner, a board member for Fierté Fredericton Pride, who says the pantry is their favourite part of the week.
"It's an open door and folks can come in. There's no questions asked. We just let them ask any questions they have about the produce … give them a smile behind a mask, wish them well and hope to see them next week."
Community members feel 'connected' and 'helped out'
Thorpe said they're "thrilled to see that folks are engaged and excited about the program."
"It's also something that we're wishing would not be necessary, of course," she said, adding there are "significant barriers to access, particularly when it comes to healthy and locally produced food."
"We've had a great uptake and word has spread since we started … folks are telling their friends and such, which is really lovely to see."
21-year-old Shannon Nickerson stopped by the pantry for the first time Wednesday afternoon, and said with the recent increase in food prices she appreciates the community effort.
"It does help you feel a little bit more connected. I feel like a little helped out, which is nice," she said.
Diane Wilson, owner of Monarch, volunteers her time each Wednesday to open up Produce Pantry.
"For me, I know that there was a time in my life where food was a struggle. Knowing that I can offer a space for Pride to host an event that provides food for free, I'm willing to do that any time I can," she said.
Everyone deserving of fresh food
As local Pride festivities ramp up, Thorpe hopes exposure to the program will rise and members of the community will continue to access it if they choose to.
"Everyone is deserving of fresh and healthy food," said Thorpe.
"We, as a community, can hopefully create avenues or resources and find creative ways to sidestep systems that reproduce inequity and take care of each other."
The Pride Pantry is expected to run into November.
Visitors are encouraged to bring their own reusable bags, and continue to wear a mask when entering for pick-up.