PEI·CASH CRUNCH

Rural communities on P.E.I. add pantries, fridges to help neighbours

More rural communities on P.E.I. are doing what their urban counterparts have been doing — adding pantries and fridges where people can get staples like food and dry goods for free when they need them.

'It's good for our kids to see that there's ways of helping each other out'

Two women stand in front of a fridge full of food
Madeleine Mitchell, left, and her mother Megan, of West River, P.E.I., helped get the pantry and fridge structure at Afton Community Centre up and running. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Megan Mitchell drops by the Afton Community Centre in New Dominion often, to check on the community fridge that's nestled up against the hall. 

The wooden structure has two doors — one opens up to a shelf of dry goods, while the other side opens up to a refrigerator and freezer. 

Mitchell is one of the organizers of the community fridge. She said they spent eight months planning the project, which opened on Oct. 26. 

While there have been community fridges in bigger centres on P.E.I. for some time, the number of similar structures in rural communities is growing. 

Food on a shelf in a pantry
Organizers of the community fridge at the Afton Community Centre in New Dominion say people have regularly been dropping off food donations. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"The past year has just been really hard financially with housing and gas and oil and food. And this was just was some way I could give back to my community," she said.

Mitchell has four children, and knows what kind of pressure families are feeling as the price of food continues to increase. 

"I just can't imagine anybody going hungry. I can't imagine there not being food in my fridge. Or having to choose between gas or medicine or feeding my children, or my pet," she said. 

Woman puts food in a pantry
Megan Mitchell helps restock the community fridge at Afton Community Centre. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Mitchell said a fridge was donated for the project, a community member built the structure over the summer and others helped move it to the hall and get it installed. 

She said organizers weren't sure how the fridge would go over. But it appears quite a few people are using it. 

'Everyone's in the same boat, struggling'

"The food's been changing out. We have a team of people that check in on a daily basis and everybody's just checking in ... we're very, very grateful for people showing up and bringing anything they can," she said. 

"Especially the fridge contents — eggs, cheese, butter, the staples. School snacks are good too."

Mitchell's daughter Madeleine has also been helping out. She didn't think the fridge would ever be needed in their community. 

"I think it's important to know anyone can use this fridge. Especially in this time because everyone's in the same boat struggling with the same prices." 

Food pantry structure with a sign
The community pantry in Orwell Cove, P.E.I., is located in the driveway of G Visser & Sons potato operation on the Trans-Canada Highway. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Sitting in the driveway of Gerrit Visser & Sons in Orwell Cove, P.E.I., — beside the potato warehouses —  is a small wooden building with the words "Community Pantry" on it. 

Good for kids to see people helping out 

Inside, there are carrots and potatoes, baby formula and dry pasta, canned goods and toilet paper. 

Randy Visser owns the potato operation, and is one of the people behind the pantry. 

He said people drop off items for the pantry daily. 

Teen on a ladder beside a wooden structure
Randy Visser's daughter Emma helped put the structure together. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"So often we rely on the government, or we expect the government to solve all the problems and there's a part that's up to us too," he said. 

"And I think that's a good thing as a community. It's good for our kids to see that there's ways of helping each other out." 

Visser said the location seems to be a good one, because it's visible, there's enough room for people to drive in and turn around — but it's a little bit discreet at the same time. 

Man puts food on a shelf
Randy Visser helps stock the shelves at the community pantry. (Laura Meader/CBC)

He said it isn't just people who live in urban centres that need help. 

"We all can tend to be kind of self-centred and selfish and if we're not generous sometimes, if we don't try to reach out, then what's that saying for our community?"

In Crapaud, the South Shore Food Share has been providing food once a month for families in the community for almost seven years. 

Woman gesturing to a counter filled with food
Marianna Burda, co-founder of South Shore Food Share food bank in Crapaud, P.E.I. (Tony Davis/CBC)

Marianna Burda is one of the co-founders. She said at first, the community didn't realize how great the need was.

Now, the group serves 40 families full time and others sporadically. 

Burda said their numbers have been increasing steadily since the pandemic began. 

Some who gave last year are recipients this year 

"People are frightened. They're worried about not having lunches to send to school with their children," she said.

"And numbers are just going up. This year we're doing Christmas hampers for 75 families, and last year the number was 40 … and people who were in the position to give last year are now on the receiving end."

Food in bags on a shelf
The South Shore Food Share has been operating in Crapaud, P.E.I., for seven years. Numbers of families being served has increased steadily over that time. (Submitted by South Shore Food Share)

Burda said even though people are feeling the pinch, donations have been steady. 

"Islanders are the most giving people that there are. And awareness has been really increased because parents are including their children in food drives and fundraisers and now they're raising a new generation of givers," she said. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Maggie Brown

Producer

Maggie Brown has been with the CBC on P.E.I. since 1992, working in radio, television and digital. Contact me at maggie.brown@cbc.ca if you have a story to share.

With files from Laura Meader

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