Blare Conlin has found an innovative way to help hungry people in need in the downtown core.
Conlin is a member of the Cowichan Green Community’s Kin Park Urban Youth Farm team that teaches people how to farm organically in the park, located on Alderlea Street in Duncan.
She said team members do regular sweeps of the park to gather garbage, discarded needles and other debris from homeless campers who sometimes stay in the park at night, and were confused when the campers continued to have fires even through last year’s heat waves.
Conlin said, after looking closely at the fire pits, she realized that the campers were using the fires to cook food.
“It was becoming an issue because they were having these fires during the dry season and I was upset at first, but realized that if I was in the same situation, I would also do it to survive,” she said.
“The problem is with food insecurity and these people are just doing the best they can. I tried to find a solution and decided the best strategy is to make food more accessible right here in the park.”
Conlin said she decided to build a food pantry, with the help of funding from the Neighbourhood Small Grants program, in the park and fill it with food that is accessible to those that need it, and the community jumped on board to help out.
Carpentry students from Vancouver Island University created the plans for the pantry and built it, and cobb, a natural building material, was installed within the walls of the pantry by Fraser Basin Youth Council and volunteers.
Conlin said the food that is stocked in the pantry comes from the Cowichan Green Community’s food recovery program, local food banks and donations from the general public; and harm reduction and hygiene supplies like naloxone kits are donated by Lookout Housing and Health Society.
“It’s like those little book libraries that have popped up in some neighbourhoods – a free resource to literature you may not have been able to access otherwise, but instead of books, we’re dealing with food,” Conlin said.
“The pantry is unsupervised and is open 24/7. This is not charity; it is sharing between one another, building an interdependence that is much needed in these times. It is meeting each other at eye level, giving what we can and taking what we need. No policing. No judgment. Just respect.”
Conlin said the food pantry has been open for two weeks and it’s hard to keep stocked.
She said the fresh food is the most popular items, but dry and tin foods are being utilized as well.
“We’re very pleased to see the community donating items, such as soup and fruit, to the pantry as well,” she said. “This is not a perfect solution to the problem of food insecurity, but providing open access to food is helpful. For most, a huge factor in feeling ‘at home’ is having access to food within the community you live in. I hope the community respects the pantry, and they have so far.”