AMHERST – A new pantry at Amherst’s Rotary Centennial Park is already making a difference in helping address poverty in the community.
The pantry, filled with canned food, fruit, toiletries and other items, is already seeing lots of use with people taking food from the bright blue pantry and restocking it.
“We’ve already seen a lot of use. A lot of the stuff that was stocked last week has been removed and people are restocking it as well,” Kim Campbell, the spokesperson for the group that came up with the idea, said on Tuesday.
The free pantry idea came up about a year ago when Amherst hosted a Make It Happen meeting that invited people from throughout the community to get together and come up with the one thing they would do to make a difference in the community.
It was out of that meeting that Dave Gunning was invited to sing with children at First Baptist Church in downtown Amherst and the pantry was developed.
“The idea of a community free pantry was discussed amongst a group of caring friends who are dedicated to keeping it stocked and encouraging anyone who needs it to use it,” said Campbell, who built the pantry for the group. “They also hope the entire community will be behind the concept and keep an eye on it, and stock it with anything they can contribute.”
Campbell said a member of the group saw the concept in another community and believes it can work here. He said other communities have also created pop-up libraries where people can drop off and pick up books.
The town has also been helpful, he said, allowing the pantry to be placed in one of its municipal parks while also assisting with permits, installation and winter snowclearing so people can access the pantry on a year-round basis.
“The town has listed poverty as one of its new strategic priorities and by helping with this project they are showing they are serious about helping eliminate poverty in the community,” Campbell said. “The community has embraced this concept and the group feels it’s just one example of the power of the community coming together to make positive things happen.”
Colleen Dowe from Empowering Beyond Barriers is hopeful the concept will be a success in Amherst.
“We think it’s great, but we’re not sure how it will work because it hasn’t been done here before,” she said. “There were some concerns about whether people would abuse it and not fill it, but there’s a small committee working to keep it up to date. That will make it sustainable.”
She said the location, across the road from Maggie’s Place on Elmwood Drive and in a park, is ideal. She is hopeful Maggie’s Place staff will encourage people to use it.
“Because of its location people are coming and going and giving and taking without anyone really noticing, which is perfect in that there’s no stigma,” Dowe said. “Some people are very conscious about asking for help. They want to avoid that stigma.”
Dowe feels this will help the working poor, who need a few things to hold them over until payday.