pantry1

NMPL programming coordinator Heidi Lovett and library director Diane Randall showcase where the pantry will be located.

Even before the pandemic, food insecurity was a long-standing issue in Wabash County and the region.

But, that problem was exacerbated demonstratively by COVID-19.

For example, in January, Second Harvest president and CEO Tim Kean said they served four times as many food allotments at their tailgates, going up to 595,756 in 2020 compared to 150,939 in 2019.

To help alleviate this pressing issue locally, North Manchester Public Library (NMPL) adult department manager and marketing coordinator Jeanna Hann said they were “thrilled” to partner with Community Pantry North Manchester to open a free community pantry.

“The community pantry, a mutual aid space, is where people take responsibility for caring for one another by sharing resources,” said Hann.

Hann said the new pantry will be a large cabinet that will host non-perishable food and paper supplies at the NMPL Market Street entryway.

Hann said they planned to install the pantry between 4 and 5 p.m. Monday, April 19.

“It will immediately be available for the public,” said Hann. “The pantry will help those facing nutritional insecurity by providing easy access to free and nutritious food.”

Hann said anyone who needs food or supplies will be able to access the pantry at any time to take what they need and leave what they don’t.

Hann said Emily Poston from Community Pantry North Manchester approached the library first about the possibility of NMPL hosting the pantry.

“Not only did the partnership fit within the NMPL mission, to benefit and serve the community, but we also felt there was a need in the community, especially among those families who face food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Hann.

Poston said that she had been thinking about doing something to help the community for some time, and the idea came about when she saw that Forward Indiana in Fort Wayne “had all these pantries popping up all over the city.”

“I followed several Instagram accounts that were showing community fridges popping up all over the country, mostly due to COVID,” said Poston. “People weren’t always able to prioritize food, and their neighbors and community members stepped in to help ease the burden.”

Poston said she also read an article in the Washington Post about it, and “was inspired by the idea of neighbors helping neighbors.”

Poston said food pantries can also help eliminate food waste, by promoting food rescue and redistribution.

“If you purchase the wrong ingredient, the wrong type of oatmeal, for example, you don’t end up using it and it just sits on your shelf. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be used by someone else. By donating food we’re feeding our community and not landfills,” said Poston.

Hann said the community may help the pantry by dropping by to clean or stock it whenever they can.

Hann said while many libraries in the country also host Free Little Food Pantries, the NMPL “is excited to add their names to the list.”

“The library is a vital center of information and activity in our community,” said NMPL director Diane Randall. “This collaborative partnership is a great fit with the library’s mission and we are excited to be part of this project.”

Hann said a local art student from Manchester Community Schools will paint a mural onto the outside of the pantry in late May, “which will not only add visibility to the pantry, but it will set a tone for the space.”

Those who wish to contribute can donate non-perishable food items, paper supplies and hygiene items, either by leaving them in the pantry, bringing them into the library or arranging a porch pick up by emailing communitypantrynm@gmail.com.

“Canned goods are appreciated, but so are items like disposable diapers, toothpaste, deodorant, feminine hygiene products, and Kleenex,” said Hann. “NMPL is excited to partner with the community to keep the pantry well-stocked. During the library’s busy summer months, any child who brings in a donation of 5 or more items for the pantry will earn ‘NMPL Bucks,’ which can be turned in for prizes, books and gifts at a variety of special library events throughout the year.”

For more information, visit www.nman.lib.in.us.

Rob Burgess, Wabash Plain Dealer editor, may be reached by email at rburgess@wabashplaindealer.com.