MVG Pantry: Week 1

It’s been one week since the MVG Pantry was opened and we couldn’t be more surprised or delighted about the happenings at the pantry this week.

The pantry was started to help foster a sense of community connection, in times when we are so disconnected. After enduring the longest and most stringent lockdowns in the world, Melbournians now, more than ever need an opportunity to connect until the strict protocols which govern our lifestyle.

And, so began our little community pantry project that was launched on Saturday 25 September, a date shared with the iconic AFL Grand Final. It probably doesn’t get more Melbourne than that!

Opening Day Nerves

We had been sourcing supplies for the pantry for over a month. Not much was required but with limited reasons to leave home, we needed to wait until a suitable pantry become available in our local area. Once we had everything we needed, we couldn’t wait to open the pantry.

Having moved into a new neighbourhood just two days before the May 2021 lockdown, we’d not had the opportunity to meet many of our neighbours. The ones we had met are some of the nicest neighbours we’ve had, so were hopeful the pantry would be embraced. It turned out there was nothing to be nervous about, even though we hadn’t consulted with anyone prior to embarking on the project.

The pantry was given a final scrub down and carted out to the street. Special thanks to my Hubster, Jamie who didn’t complain when I dropped my side and it smashed his shin. Or, for that matter, for all his help in making the pantry happen.

The sun was shining and the day could not have been any more perfect weather-wise. We sat quietly in the backyard, waited, and listened.

A minimally stocked pantry on her debut, 25 September 2021.

Conversations and Connections

It wasn’t long until passers-by stopped to take a look at the pantry. We sat back and listened to the conversations taking place. Every word said was one of absolute delight for the pantry. There was laughter and chatter. “Great idea”, “love this”, “how sweet”, “let’s come back again tomorrow” were some of the snippets we heard.

Of course, we weren’t sure if people would take the goodies from the pantry or even if donations would be left.

When the coast was clear, I popped out after a couple of hours to see what activity had taken place. I couldn’t believe my eyes! Fruit fruit, herbs and plants donated by the Barbara, Pook and the lovely Hartwell/ Burwood Food Swap had quickly gone. These were replaced by new jams, more herbs and pantry staples.

Water for the fresh herbs was topped up, some things re-arranged and I went back inside with a big smile on my face. Each time I checked on the pantry that first day, things had been taken to be replenished by new items.

On Sunday, when Jamie was mowing the lawns, people stopped to thank him for starting the pantry. Neighbours we hadn’t met smiled and waved from their side of the street. Strangers passing by waved and smiled too.

Baked goods started appearing. Flowers in vases. Freshly cut herbs from gardens. Jams and preserves. Chocolate and lollipops. Toys. Handwritten notes of thanks. Children crafting items to leave with hand-drawn posters. Elderly people and children visiting every day to see what was different. Each visit to the pantry revealed something new and made my heart swell so much more. Happy tears were shed many, many times.

The humble, destined-for-the-tip pantry had quickly fulfilled its intention, to create a community connection.

Frankie and Pat

One of the reasons the pantry works so well is that it’s largely left unattended for people to visit and enjoy. We don’t know who visits each day and leaves behind their own gift of community kindness. However, there are two very special people I’ve had the opportunity to meet in person because of the pantry.

On Saturday afternoon there was a knock at our front door. Pat, a sprightly lady in her eighties was there to introduce herself. That first conversation must have lasted an hour and I learned that Pat was involved in the Herb Society, was a member of Friends of the Earth, was from the country and had so much knowledge to share. The following day, Pat gifted a huge stash of empty jars and we nattered on the porch for another 45 minutes, or so. Chatting with Pat has become an almost daily occurrence. We’ve swapped gardening books, chatted about families, gardening, and baking.

Returning Pat’s basket with some freshly baked cookies, using rosemary donated to the pantry.

And, then there’s Frankie. Lovely five-year-old Frankie, who visits the pantry every day, with her 2 year old brother, Arlo. Each day, Frankie adds something special to the pantry and takes something small in return. I won’t deny that sneaking out to see what Frankie has left behind has quickly become one of my favourite parts of the day. I’ve been saving all her drawings and notes for a special, yet-to-be-decided project.

Pantry Experience

There have been a few things introduced over the week to enhance the pantry experience.

I quickly realised I might need a sign to let people know when the pantry might be open each day and what to do when the pantry was closed. A small sign was made from a piece of discarded wood and some rubber bands to show opening hours from 8.30am – dusk. And, to encourage people to help themselves to any donations left overnight.

We also have two dogs that have taken it upon themselves to welcome passers-by to the pantry as it sits against the fence in our back yard. Another small sign was added to assure people our dogs were small, well-contained within the yard and to ignore them if they barked. We want people to always feel welcome and sometimes a couple of yapping sausos doesn’t achieve that goal!

The last few days of this week have had terrible weather. Initially, we closed the pantry but people were still coming by. So, we partially covered the pantry with a tarp and added a ‘Wet Weather Mini Pantry” sign.

Sharing updates about the pantry on Twitter and Instagram has also created an easy way for the neighbourhood to follow goings-on. It’s inspired others to take their own steps toward #communitykindness with the original tweet about the pantry having nearly 11,000 people engage!

The biggest learning this week was understanding how the community would interact with the pantry. The main purpose of the pantry is to encourage community interaction. Secondary goals were to encourage children to learn about the joy of giving (and taking) within their community, and to reduce food waste by sharing produce and food that might otherwise go to waste. What was quickly revealed was the purpose of the pantry was decided by the community. Books and magazines appeared, toys, baubles – many things other than the abundance of produce and fresh food. Allowing the pantry to evolve through community participation has been a valuable experience for me.

How to start a Community Pantry

If you’d like to start a community pantry project of your own, I’ve rounded up some tips in this blog post. I’d love to hear if you do, or other ways you’re creating connection and sharing kindness in your community!

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