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La Pantry: women with a will to ‘waste not’

It started last spring as a simple idea. Three women had a conversation about food waste and what, perhaps, they could do about it.

The “Love Food, Hate Waste Canada” website cites, “The average Canadian household wastes 140 kilograms of food at a cost of more than $1300 per year. Moreover, 63 per cent of the food Canadians throw away could have been eaten.” Spurred on by these statistics, Ann Healey of the Service d’action bénévevole, Veronique Laramée-Paquette, and Tammy Beattie realized that they needed to partner up with other organizations that would share their goal of achieving zero food waste in the community.

Enter Catherine Stratford of the Hemmingford Environment Committee, Info Hemmingford, and the Hemmingford Community Garden; Tina Calvarese of the Montérégie West Community Network; and Lucy Savage, a Hemmingford dietitian. They joined in to brainstorm and help, and “La Pantry,” a zero-food-waste project, was created.

At first the women were unsure of the logistics of such a project, but dietitian Savage helped narrow things down. Beattie mentions a guide for food-expiry dates that Savage has put together for the group to use, and explains that expiry dates on many foods are “not really an ‘expiry date’; it’s really a ‘best before date’.”

Dietician Savage is their “go-to girl.” “She really helped guide us on what direction to take,” says Beattie.

How it works

La Pantry opened its doors on July 4, in the Hemmingford United Church behind the Co-op. On Monday, food can be dropped off from 9 a.m. to noon, and the pickup day is Tuesday, 9 a.m. to noon. On Mondays, individuals or businesses are encouraged to drop off excess food from their gardens or kitchens. On Tuesdays, that food is distributed to those who can use it.

As the doors close at noon on Mondays, a photo is taken of the food that is available, and that photo is then posted on La Pantry’s Facebook page “So people can see what’s available and [they] can come and pick it up on Tuesday,” explains Beattie. There is no charge for the food.

Customers also can contact La Pantry through the Facebook page, and the group can deliver food items. Because they realize their hours are short, the volunteers will often pick up or deliver. La Pantry also invites those who are dropping off items to pick up whatever they can use themselves.

There is no need to be reluctant to take away what is available. “It is open to everyone. We don’t want it to be stigmatized,” says Beattie. “We have a very generous community, so people are more comfortable giving than receiving.” She adds, “It’s about the food not going in the garbage.”
Over the summer La Pantry received a lot of vegetables because of the gardening season, but canned and other foods have been coming in as well. “Diminishing food waste is our main objective,” says Beattie. “We want people to say, ‘I’m not going to use this’ or say, ‘I’m not going to use ALL of this,’ and bring it in to La Pantry to be distributed.” Healey points out that in a lot of households, food “gets pushed in the back of the freezer, then forgotten and wasted.”

The women are all volunteers, and they take shifts. Stratford is involved in the community garden, and she has contacted local vegetable farmers to collect excess crops. She also plans to contact local orchards.

Partners and helping hands

The community has been very generous so far. Many residents donated money so the project could print advertising pamphlets. The United Church provides a place to meet and allows the use of fridge and freezer.

 

Five women in front of building with sign
he women of La Pantry beside their outdoor pantry unit From left Tina Calvarese Catherine Stratford Veronique Laramée Paquette Tammy Beattie and Ann Healey Absent from the photo is dietician Lucy Savage PHOTO Yvonne Lewis Langlois

 

La Pantry is partnered with The Environment Committee, the Service d’action bénévevole, and the Montérégie West Community Network, which has a similar project. When La Pantry needed an outdoor spot for after-hours pick-ups, St. Romain’s Frippery stepped in and donated a unit with a roof and then painted it; the unit is situated just outside La Pantry’s door. Le Dauphinais Campground held a concert with a live band on September 4; admission was $5 plus the donation of one nonperishable food item.

The overflow plan

It is important that no food is lost. The “overflow plan” means that food is initially distributed within the immediate community, but it can also be redistributed to other organizations. In the past, some food items were donated to La Maison des Jeunes, where the food was appreciated by the youth who are taking cooking lessons.

When the project received a donation of organic cucumbers from La Vallee du Tilleul Farm, the excess of cukes was donated to Au Coin Chex Nous in Saint-Chysostome which makes emergency food boxes and Meals on Wheels. Stratford reported that the folks at Au Coin Chez Nous were thrilled, and she was told, “Whatever you bring, we can use.”

“We have many ideas,” says Laramée-Paquette. La Pantry plans to bring food to the schools, as well as a “Fresh Fridays” donation program or a share bin. They are working on it now.

“Obviously if we can help someone in need that is part of the mission,” she adds. Beattie agrees. The group is planning how to tackle quantities of food that are not picked up. One idea was to integrate it into soups, pies, and other freezable items. Another idea is to share recipes on the Facebook page to help people use their excess food items. Beattie explains, “We opted to start small and go from there, instead of trying to get so many donations and [have] nobody picking it up, because that creates more food waste … We would like people to get into the mindset of using this.”

To contact La Pantry, or to see what foods are available, go to the Facebook page. The volunteers can also be reached by email at lapantry2022@gmail.com.

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