Feeding the Community: Starting a Food Cupboard
By Rev Jana Miller
The idea for a community cupboard is something that I have had in the back of my mind since I was a student. Throughout my university studies there were food cupboards in the student union building or in common room areas with the the idea of giving when you have an abundance of food and receiving when you are lacking. The idea for a neighbourhood food cupboard is similar to the ‘take a book, leave a book’ little libraries that are popping up in communities across Canada. Why not share food as well as books?
Since the pandemic, food shortage and scarcity has become a larger concern for communities in part because of job loss and loss of income, as well as the increase in the cost food and other cost of living expenses. In the town where I live there is a local food bank, which is well used, but is only open certain dates and times. Food banks also have an application/process and are not always available to people in need. People whose paycheck may not have stretched to the next pay day because of an emergency, and only need occasional support may fall between these cracks. Food banks may not reach the student who forgot their lunch or a senior who is out for a walk and could benefit from a snack. This is where the community cupboard comes in.
In the spring there was talk among several neighbours on our street about having a community cupboard built in our town. A location was decided upon that is one block away from the downtown and community center, as well as being on the route that many students take to the local intermediate and senior high schools. With a few donated materials (someone had recently had their house roofed and had extra shingles, another had exterior paint left over), as well as a couple who stepped forward to undertake the design and construction of the community cupboard, we began the process. In my ministry work, I believe community is everything, whether it is in worship, or celebrating life events (baptisms, wedding, funerals,), social justice for better supports for us all; it all comes back to community. How could we better support out community than providing physical nourishment? When I saw the application for micro-grants with Clergy Support Memorial Church, I applied for a grant to cover the cost of the materials for building one community cupboard. Clergy Support Memorial Church reached out and asked if we had interest in building a second cupboard and if some money for stocking the cupboards would also be of help. We gladly accepted and our local community cupboard project began.
I would love to say that everything went exactly as planned and everything is completed. However, like any project there is a difference between how you expect things to go and what actually happens.
The initial plan was to use plans for a book library and expand or enlarge the dimensions to make a larger cupboard. However, any of the plans that we found did not seem that they would be able to support the required weight (think heavy canned goods), or be able to accommodate cereal boxes which are quite large. So, our carpenters took the time to create a concept and worked it through from there. As a result, building the cupboard has been a bit slower. However, this has resulted in a very robust structure that will support a substantial amount of weight and accommodate larger items. It has posts that anchor it into a cement block so that it is also very sturdy. The cupboard contains two shelves, one for smaller items like canned good and a larger shelf to accommodate larger items like cereal size boxes. There is also a plexiglass door, so you can see inside before opening the door. To guard against weather, the roof will be shingled and the wood will receive 2-3 coats of exterior paint.
The first cupboard at this time has been assembled and painted. The remaining steps are to attach the door, shingle the roof and attach the cupboard to the cement base. The location for this cupboard has also been finalized. It is expected that these remaining tasks will be completed in the next week or so, and food items that can withstand freezing will then be purchased for it. We did encounter some delays due to the availability of the carpenter, the weather as painting was done outside, as well as locating the tools necessary to cut and drill the wood and plexiglass.
The second cupboard has been started with most of the wood materials cut and awaiting assembly. The location we have been able to secure for this cupboard is in a different area of town where many seniors and working families reside. The site however is undergoing some development this fall and so the community cupboard cannot be placed until spring. We did consider another location, however this neighbourhood was decided as more favourable, because it is a lower socio-economic area and is close to a playground.
The continued plans are to finish the two cupboards that we have in progress, and perhaps consider building a more depending on how these ones go. During the late spring, summer, and early fall there has been talk about having fresh produce in the cupboard from local gardens. There has also been conversation about doing a garden box at the nearby public school, if the school is interested and if there are volunteers to help care for the garden box during the summer months when school is out. For now it is one step at a time.