Edmontonian Quinn Wade saw a growing need for food supports in the city and came up with a creative solution: a community food hamper.
It works similar to a little free library except instead of books, it’s for food.
“People come and they can put food in and other people who need it can take food out,” Wade explained.
Wade’s drag family, the Lovegoods, turned a beat-up old recycling box into the first Lovegood Food Exchange Box at the end of April.
They placed it in Paul Kane Park, at 103 Avenue and 121 Street.
“If I’m needing food and having to use the food bank, then other people are,” Wade thought.
“Then COVID(-19) came about and everybody was out of work pretty much, so that need was going to be even greater.”
So far, more than 7,000 items have circulated through the box, including canned foods, fresh fruit, pasta, cereal and bottled water.
Sometimes, notes of thanks are left in the box.
“We’ve had people come by and say, ‘You fed us for two months, you kind of kept us going,'” Wade said.
Based on the popularity of the original box, 15 others are now being made for other vulnerable communities in Edmonton.
“I think our priority is to get these food boxes into really high-need food areas. So Alberta Avenue, we want to get one in — and Abbotsfield,” explained Renee Vaugeois, executive director with the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights.
Vaugeois is helping ensure the boxes don’t sit empty.
“Picking up food here at the food bank and helping support those exchange boxes to make sure they have a stock in them, at times, to make sure there’s something people can access,” she said as she loaded up her van with food.
Vaugeois said she likes that the Lovegood boxes don’t have any obstacles for people to use them — there’s no identification required, no forms to fill out and no waiting.
“It’s a really good space for people to access food with dignity, but also for people to provide and give,” she explained. “There’s also been school supplies put in there, there’s been masks put in there, it’s become this little community hub.
“Sometimes, when people need food, it’s not three or four days from now, it’s now. They offer a really immediate way for people to access food.”
She is worried though, that demand for supports like this could soon spike.
“It’s back to school, but I think we’re also worried it’s CERB ending, the benefits ending — the food demand is going to increase.”
Vaugeois and Wade hope the expansion of the Lovegood boxes will help, but to do so, they also need more volunteers or “box guardians.”
“What it requires is checking in on the box twice a day, doing a good sanitization of the box — making sure it’s good and clean, making sure there’s nothing unnecessary or unwanted in there and just monitoring the supply and stock,” Vaugeois said.
Anyone wanting to take part is encouraged to email firstname.lastname@example.org
And if people want to donate, Wade says that’s easy.
“Just come down here, put the food in and it’s just totally anonymous.”
The boxes have been a source of hope for Wade through the pandemic.
“Some days I’m feeling really down and I’ll come here and it lifts my spirits to see that there’s food in the box and people are using it.”