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Little Free Pantry can’t keep up with demand in northeast Calgary community

Margot Baker had money budgeted each week to keep her Abbeydale Little Free Pantry stocked, but in the latter half of 2018, demand soared. It’s now costing her up to $75 per week to keep it filled.

The Little Free Pantry is coupled with the similarly named Little Free Library – and when Baker launched it in the summer of 2017, she said it was the first combination of its kind in Canada. The library side stays well stocked and well used by the community, but the need is so great in her community, the food side struggles to keep up.

The premise behind the free libraries and pantries is for people to take what they need and leave what they can.

“As people are becoming more familiar with it, they’re becoming more reliant on it,” Baker told LiveWire, quickly pointing out that despite the comments of some, no one’s using it as their personal grocery store.

“That’s not what happens. I see who uses it and it’s a lot of different people from the community and most take two or three things. They’re not emptying it.”

Baker, who has lived in the northeast Calgary community of Abbeydale for the past 17 years, said she’s learned so much about her neighbours and it’s provided her with a better understanding of the food insecurity in the neighbourhood. She said the community is lower on the socio-economic scale with a large number of immigrants, blue collar workers and people caring for family members with a physical disability. A social worker reached out to her and mentioned that it’s difficult for many of these families to afford to get down to the Calgary Food Bank for help.

“What was kind of hard for me was people were saying that the people who are using it should refill it. And it doesn’t make sense. The people who are using it are the people who really need it,” she said.

“Women come by in the middle of the night because they’re embarrassed and shy. They don’t want to be seen as needy. They don’t want to be looked down on and judged.”

As a single mom of two kids with a fixed income – as she’s working on her education degree – Baker said it’s become challenging to keep up with demand. She posted to Facebook on New Year’s Day, asking for suggestions on how to keep things rolling along without it taxing her as well.

“So tell me. Please. What do I do? I am out of ideas and motivation to make this work,” she posted.

That post was Jan. 1. Since then it’s been shared more than 270 times, reached more than 30,000 people and had dozens of offerings of support.

“I’ve just got an overwhelming amount of support. It’s incredible,” Baker said.

She said the pantry was stocked yesterday (Jan. 1) and already contents have been taken. Baker would like to see grocery sponsors in the community step up to provide some of the basics: Noodles, rice, mac and cheese, along with personal hygiene items like toothbrushes and toothpaste.

The little free pantry is located at: 57 Aberdare Road NE.

“My big frustration was I’ve contacted so many people, and nobody would even talk to me,” she said.

In the meantime, Baker will continue to do what she can to keep the shelves stocked. She always accepted that she may have to continue doing it on her own dime, while some have suggested she shouldn’t be solely responsible for its upkeep.

“I’m really just trying to help our community,” she said.