Take a tin or leave toilet paper at community cupboard in Winnipeg

A community cupboard is seen in Winnipeg, Man. in this undated handout photo. A couple who've opened a community pantry outside their home in a poor Winnipeg neighbourhood say they could have started a community library, but the neighbours who knock on their door aren't looking for War and Peace.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Kelly Hughes

WINNIPEG - A couple who've opened a community pantry outside their home in a poor Winnipeg neighbourhood say they could have started a community library, but the neighbours who knock on their door aren't looking for "War and Peace."

Kelly Hughes and Andrea Vaile live in the Centennial neighbourhood of Winnipeg near several inner-city missions.

Their house is attached to a former church which they're planning to renovate into a theatre and music space, but Hughes says it means they get a lot of people at their door, often asking for food.

"We sometimes had some stuff inside handy that we could give them, but Andrea said maybe we should build one of these free pantries," Hughes explained.

"We thought what can we do right here, right in our neighbourhood, right in our street?"

Community pantries are a take on the idea of community libraries — where residents build cupboards outside their homes and allow people to take, and leave, items for free.

Hughes and Vaile opened their community cupboard on Friday, stocked it with non-perishable food items and toiletries, and posted a message on Facebook asking friends to help them keep it filled.

The cupboard is right by their fence. The sign says take what you need, and if you have extra, leave it.

There's juice, fruit cups, canned tuna and veggies, Kraft Dinner, and cat food because Hughes said a lot of people in the area have cats. He said the foods are easy to prepare because many people are in rooming houses and don't have kitchens.

There's also toilet paper, paper towels and tampons.

"One of the reasons that we wanted to do it is Andrea and I have both had our own mental health struggles and we're fortunate enough to be middle class and have access to different things," Hughes said.

"There are a lot of people that I see that are in the core area who've got real challenges like that and have fallen through the cracks."

Hughes said other people in the neighbourhood helped inspire their generosity. Althea Guiboche, a community activist known as the "Bannock Lady" for making and giving away bannock, helps feed people a few blocks away.

The cupboard is unlocked all the time. Hughes said if someone has missed dinner at the mission, or the food bank is closed or if someone is drunk or high and couldn't get into a facility, the cupboard is always open.

So far, it has worked out well.

"We've had a couple of people come and drop stuff off already. Nobody is emptying it out. People are taking one or two things," Hughes said.


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