Nova Scotia

Outdoor food pantries pop up in Cape Breton amid pandemic

At least eight food pantries can now be found in communities around the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, from New Waterford to Sydney Mines.

Donors stocking at least 8 cupboards around the CBRM with food and toiletries

Alexis Rudderham stands next to a food pantry that mysteriously appeared on Nepean Street in the north end of Sydney, N.S., early last year. Since that time, several other cabinets have popped up within the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. (Erin Pottie/CBC)

Take what you need, leave what you can.

That's the motto behind several small outdoor food pantries popping up around the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. At least eight of the fixtures can be found around the CBRM, some hung on trees or mounted on cinder blocks in communities from New Waterford to Sydney Mines.

The first bright red, wooden cupboard appeared in Sydney just prior to start of the pandemic.

"It's pretty amazing what this cupboard can hold," said Alexis Rudderham, who helps stock the Nepean Street pantry.

A second cabinet for food and supplies recently appeared on Desbarres Street in north-end Sydney. (Erin Pottie/CBC)

The person who put it there does not want to be named. This sense of privacy is something enjoyed by the people who use the pantry, Rudderham said.

"There are no rules," said Rudderham. "There is no criteria —  that is the big difference.

"I believe the majority of people that are using this are in fact the working poor. There are people that just need a little bit of help to get through."

Toiletries and bread popular items

Jay Duguid is among dozens of people filling the bright red boxes in Sydney with everything from toilet paper to tea bags. Among the popular items are toiletries and bread. 

He said the cupboard provides privacy, and a lift to those who need it. 

"Some people are very proud and don't want to ask," he said. "I've seen the cupboards full, you couldn't get anything more in them. In the next few hours later, they're empty."

After the first Sydney pantry appeared, a local Facebook group was created and has since grown to 130 members. 

Rudderham said some pantry donors have actually since met in person, after discussing almost daily what items are available or in need. 

"Most of us don't know one another," she said. "It just spurred our connection to one another."

In December, a group of volunteers handed out just over 40 turkeys, vegetables and desserts after a pitch was made to raising money online.

Their future plans are to create a large pantry that can be insulated to hold a greater variety of food items. 

Leah Matthews and her husband, Elmer Blinkhorn, stand next to the community cupboard they had placed in front of Community Cares Youth Outreach in Sydney Mines. (Submitted by Leah Matthews)

After hearing about the success of the Sydney area pantries, Leah Matthews and her husband, Elmer Blinkhorn, decided to create one. It can be found in Sydney Mines at the Community Cares Youth Outreach on King Street. 

"We don't really have a whole lot on the Northside, which is where I'm from," Matthews said. "I found it was hard. I mean, if you weren't in Sydney, you couldn't go get a hot meal every day and things like that."

Matthews said there are a lot of people who don't go to food banks for whatever reason. 

She said providing a space for donations means a lot as she herself struggled to pay the bills about five years ago.

"I was down and out at one point too, and I just felt that, just to give back to the community, I guess, as best I can."

Two more cupboards are expected to be built in North Sydney and Florence. There are also pantries in Whitney Pier, Membertou and Glace Bay.