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Purple Pantry in Penticton filling a critical community need

Dave Cobeil and wife Allison Howard stock the shelves of their Penticton Community Fridge and Pantry outside the Elk's Lodge this week. Mark Brett / Penticton Herald

There’s a small building outside the Elks Lodge on Ellis Street that’s filling a big need.

Eight months since it opened there’s both good and bad news for organizers of the Penticton Community Fridge and Pantry, or Purple Pantry as it’s better known.

“It’s good that it is helping so many people, it’s just very, very busy and it’s bad that there are so many people in need,” said Dave Cobeil who, along with his wife Allison Howard, set up the facility in mid-March in co-operation with the Elks.

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“The need is just enormous and we’re getting more out of it than we first thought. I’m sure the doors to the pantry get opened 50 times a day.

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The goal initially was to make the pantry self-sufficient with the needed donations to fill the fridge and shelves coming from the general public.

“But that quickly changed when we realized how much it’s being used,” said Corbeil, who got the idea of starting the pantry locally after reading about similar programs in other cities. “All we can do is do our best to keep some stuff in it as often as we can — that’s the reality of the situation.

“It’s also really nice to see the overall community donations are really picking up, especially at this time of year.”

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On Tuesday as he and his wife were again stocking the shelves and fridge several people stopped by to get some needed food supplies.

“This is just so important. I work and I only take what I need, but sometimes at the end of the money there’s still lots of month left,” said one regular customer. “This service just really means so much to so many people who are out there and don’t know where else to go.”

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A person in need goes the Penticton Community Fridge and Pantry on Ellis Street to get some food. Mark Brett/Local Journalism Initiative. Mark Brett / Penticton Herald

Both Cobeil and Elks president Laurie Kidd admit there were concerns initially about the potential for vandalism to the pantry, but that has not materialized.

“If anything, it has actually reduced the vandalism that’s been occurring around our building,” said Kidd. “We tend to stigmatize people but for these people who rely on it to fill the gap in their food requirements, they are very, very respectful of it, they’re grateful and we’ve run into no issues.

“I think there are a lot of people who are just one or two bad paycheques away from that situation.”

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He added since the pandemic, the lodge’s main goal has been food security and the pantry exactly fit that mandate.

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“The Elks have been super supportive, they’ve helped the people donating food and given us a storage area,” said Corbeil. “It’s true that everyone who comes to use it is very respectful and unfailingly polite.”

Both the lodge and the couple worked together earlier in the year to clear the various hurdles that included getting the necessary approvals to open the pantry.

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In addition to Elks members, there are about eight volunteers who look after keeping the place clean and stocked on a daily basis.

Corbeil is especially grateful for any support people can provide for those who need the help the pantry provides.

“It’s hard enough to get stuff because there are so many organizations trying to do the same thing,” he said. “But there’s just so much of a need.”

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