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Community pantry outside north Edmonton church offers ‘real spot of joy’

Ven. Jordan Haynie Ware, the rector of Good Shepherd Anglican Church in Castle Downs, stands in front of the community pantry. Nov. 19, 2021. Global News

A church in north Edmonton has opened a “take-what-you-need, share-what-you-can” community pantry.

“I had been noticing, as the priest of this church, that a lot of people were calling and asking for help with food,” said Ven. Jordan Haynie Ware, the rector of Good Shepherd Anglican Church in Castle Downs.

“It was a lot of people who either maybe didn’t qualify for the food bank or they had already maxed out their food bank benefits or they were more transient and didn’t meet some sort of residency requirement. It was really hard to not have something to be able to help them.”

The church community found instructions online and built a community pantry.

It’s intended for the entire neighbourhood; not just families or people who are members of the church, Haynie Ware added.

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“For our whole community to contribute in feeding and sharing with one another. So that we’re not just thinking about our individual families but we’re also thinking about our whole neighbourhood as our family.”

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It’s open to anyone to donate to or take from, as needed, she said. The church will check on it regularly to make sure nothing inside has been damaged or frozen. The church will also add supplies when it can.

“Essentially, it’s just a completely open space,” Haynie Ware said. “People who want to spend an extra $5, $10, $20 at the grocery store. Just buy an extra one of something you’re already buying anyway. Come and put it in the pantry and people can come take what they need whenever they need to.”

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Since it’s not staffed, it’s available at all hours and for all people.

“They’re not relying on volunteers or specific times. There’s no income requirement. It’s for people who are needing, who are struggling to put food on their tables. It’s also for people who get off the bus and go: ‘Oh shoot, I don’t have any of this in the house, let me check this community pantry.’

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“It’s not only for people who are struggling,” Haynie Ware said. “We don’t want people to feel like they have to meet some kind of threshold in order to access what they need. We also want them to have the privacy to choose what they want and not have to justify whatever that is.”

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She encourages anyone who wants to help to donate to the pantry or start a similar initiative in their own neighbourhood.

“There is plenty more room in Edmonton for small tokens just like this. If your faith community… your community league wants to install one, we’re very happy to share our experience.

“All of Edmonton deserves to have this kind of community care for one another in the middle of a challenging season.”

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Interested in donating?

Since Edmonton’s winters are rough, donations must be able to freeze and their containers must not crack in cold. That means canned goods and things in glass jars are out.

“The water in canned goods freezes and then the can is going to burst,” Haynie Ware said.

What are some good options?

“Any kinds of dry goods, non perishables, cereal, oatmeal, Kraft Dinner is super popular… As soon as we add KD to the pantry, it’s gone.”

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Non-liquid toiletries are also greatly appreciated: bars of soap, feminine hygiene products.

Baby care items and warm socks, mittens, gloves and handwarmers are also great things to donate, Haynie Ware said.

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‘Spot of joy’

“The idea of community pantries — mutual aid pantries — has been around for a really long time.”

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The need has grown during the pandemic, Haynie Ware said.

“I’m noticing a lot more desperation and need in the community. I get way more walk-ins than I used to. Sometimes they have material needs that can be met by something like a pantry. Sometimes they just need somebody to talk to.”

The community pantry opened just a few weeks ago, but already, the priest has been blown away by the response.

“Every time I come out to check it, there’s something new that’s been donated and something has been taken.

The pantry, Haynie Ware says, allows generosity while reducing the shame that can sometimes come with accepting help.

“To have it be a mutual opportunity instead of just being the recipient of charity, I think it gives people a lot of joy to give back.”

The Good Shepherd Anglican Church is located just north of 153 Avenue on Castle Downs Road.

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