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REGGIE PONDER

Little free pantry could address hunger

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By Reggie Ponder
Columnist

Saturday, August 10, 2019

This is a Part Two, of sorts, of a previous column that dealt with how different riverfront cities and towns in coastal North Carolina find different ways to capitalize on what is one of their biggest assets — the waterfront itself.

But this column will also be different. While the emphasis before was on tourism and promotion (and perhaps quality of life), this week I’m looking at a very specific slice of the quality-of-life pie.

The homeless population in Elizabeth City has been in the news a fair amount lately because of efforts by city officials to establish a new shelter for homeless people and because funding to go toward that project was included in the General Assembly’s conference budget this year.

Homelessness tends to be a persistent — there’s a temptation to say ‘intractable’ — problem in communities where it occurs. And while it tends to be defined in terms of housing, the problem is actually a constellation of problems that are all as challenging as the big issue of providing safe housing.

One of those related issues is hunger.

And it’s thinking about solutions to hunger that has me once again recalling a recent visit to one of our coastal river towns. This time it was Washington — not the nation’s capital but the county seat of Beaufort County.

The other day I was walking down a sidewalk in downtown Washington and noting the many parallels between that town and ours, that both are building on arts and history as ways to strengthen their local economies and build the appeal of their downtown areas, when I noticed a wooden hutch that reminded me of the Little Free Library locations.

As I got closer I saw it was a Little Free Pantry — basically the same idea, but with food rather than books. It was set up in a public parking lot downtown.

I would say from the outset that this approach does not even begin to be a replacement for existing programs that address hunger and food insecurity. Well-established organizations such as Food Bank of the Albemarle, and all of the hot meal programs provided by churches and various nonprofits, will no doubt remain the backbone of the solution everywhere and at all times.

But especially for people who are homeless there are questions that arise such as, Is there anywhere I can go at night to find something safe and nourishing to eat?

The Little Free Pantry is one possible answer. The one I saw appeared to be stocked mainly with cans of food that could be opened without a can opener or any kind of tool, so someone could grab a can and immediately have something to eat. It strikes me as an idea worth considering.

Reggie Ponder is a staff writer for The Daily Advance.

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