By Erika Mathieu
Westwind Weekly News
The Free Pantry Society of Raymond has secured additional funding to bolster food security and offer residents barrier-free access to food and hygiene products in the community.
Raymond is currently home to two free pantries; free-standing food “lockers” as well as a designated space inside of the library, which houses a shelf stocked with food and basic hygiene products that residents are able to access. These pantries provide an extra layer of food security to residents which is particularly important for a rural communities who may not have a food bank or access to transportation.
A grant, funded by the Community Foundation of Lethbridge and Southwestern Alberta, will provide the Free Pantry Society of Raymond the funds to purchase materials to build a larger shed to store basic hygiene items and food, including fresh and perishable items.
Stewart Foss, President of the Free Pantry Society of Raymond said the group was initially born out of an existing need for support which was only exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think our project started initially in response to COVID. We saw the number of people in our community that had lost their sources of income or that were under-employed and struggling and so that’s where our project started,” explained Foss. He added. “I think we (initially) envisioned it as a temporary thing we would do for a few months or a year, but pretty quickly, we realized that food security is not a short-term issue.”
The society is preparing to construct an outdoor, temperature-controlled shed, which will allow for perishables to be kept in storage, and provide more diversity to people accessing the resource.
“We just got the Community Foundation grant to build a shed,” which will be the main distribution point, explained Foss. “We’ll still have the other locations but (the shed will) have power, heating, and cooling, and it will allow us to store fresh things and have a fridge and frozen things in the freezer.”
Foss said there is crossover of the Youth Do! Crew’s work getting free pantries opened in neighbouring communities and the Free Pantry Society of Raymond’s efforts. Foss explained the initiatives are all born out of the, “awareness of a gap in addressing food security in more rural regions,” and added the pantries are a “low-cost, low overheard solution,” to help take on the issue of food insecurity. “The advantage of free pantries is that they’re barrier-free, meaning you don’t have to prove income or prove your need, or have to talk to anybody,” to access support. He added the ease of access to the pantry structures is important, “especially in a small community, where we might be uncomfortable to talk to people in your neighbourhood.” Foss said he is hopeful the Free Pantry Society of Raymond will be able to open the newly funded shed with the help of volunteers before the end of the summer season, to ensure community members are able to access the resource during winter.
“The grant covered our material costs. So we’re coordinating with the Rotary Club in Raymond to help us build it.”
These free pantry structures are intended to provide, “a zero-barrier access point,” which differs from some resources which provide supports which can be contingent on meeting low income thresholds.
To learn more about the Free Pantry Society of Raymond and keep up to date on the new shed pantry visit https://freepantryraymond.ca/