AMHERST – There was a time Kim Campbell didn’t know what the price of a loaf of bread or litre of milk was. Now he’s very familiar with grocery prices.
Each morning, Campbell restocks the Pay it Forward Pantry in the Rotary Centennial Park on Elmwood Drive in Amherst. He goes back in the afternoon to check on the supply and refill it if it’s empty – and it’s usually empty.
“The program has been a huge success, although it’s hard to say it’s successful because the need is so great. It says a lot about the poverty situation in Amherst,” Campbell said while speaking to members of the Amherst Rotary Club on Monday. “When the idea was hatched there was no idea or indication of how much it would be used. Now we know how much it is used and see how great the need is in the community for something like this.”
The Pay it Forward Pantry was proposed a couple of years ago during a Make It Happen meeting in which members of the community were invited to come together and come up with some realistic community projects. They were then expected to go out into the community to make it happen.
Campbell said the person who came up with the idea wants to remain anonymous, so he became the spokesperson for the small group of volunteers that worked both to set up the blue pantry and to maintain it and keep it filled.
The concept invites people to take what they need from the pantry and to put back what they can. Campbell said the pantry has seen a lot of use from people needing both food, toiletries and personal hygiene items as well as from those who will open the pantry to drop off groceries.
“In some cases, you will have people who go grocery shopping and pick up a couple of extra cans of soup or boxes of cereal that are on sale and they’ll come to the pantry and put it in,” Campbell said.
It’s hard to estimate the value of the groceries passing through the pantry, but he thinks it’s as high as $150.
The group has developed a great relationship with Maggie’s Place, that’s located across the street. The pantry occasionally receives the donation of cash that’s used to purchase items for the pantry. It has also set up a coupon system in which people can go into Maggie’s Place to get $10 coupons that can be used to purchase food items at Highland Market and Simply For Life.
He said people like the pantry because there are no forms to fill out and no questions about income. And because people go to the pantry to donate items – as well as to take items – there’s a certain degree of anonymity.
Trina Clarke, CEO of the Cumberland YMCA, said the pantry has been used by the organization’s community support coordinator Alison Lair, who has referred callers to the program.
“We had a situation in December when a woman from Springhill called in a panic. She went to the food bank there and there was a sign on the door that said closed for vacation. She was a single mother with five children and didn’t know what to do,” Clarke said. “She came up to Amherst and we were able to take her over to the pantry to get some supplies. If the pantry weren’t there, what would she have done for two weeks over Christmas?”
Campbell said there were some fears the pantry would be vandalized or that someone would take all the food when it was first established, but the opposite has happened. He said the only “vandalism” was when someone placed a couple of red heart stickers on the pantry to show their appreciation while people have been very generous.
“I had a call from a woman who used to live in Amherst. She has been sending regular email transfers of money to buy groceries for the pantry. There is another person who has bought at least six bags of groceries for the pantry,” he said. “People have been so supportive.”
He said Weston Bakeries has been a major supporter of the program providing as much fresh bread as needed to keep the pantry stocked.
Campbell said the goal of the program is make the pantry sustainable in the long term while there is also consideration of eventually adding a second pantry near West Highlands Elementary School.
People can support the pantry financially by email money transfer to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling Campbell at 902-664-4521.