Ruthi Engelke has lived in her home near Eureka’s Cooper Gulch for more than two years. The path by her house gets a lot of foot traffic — from teens on their way to highschool to houseless people walking to and from the park. Two months ago she installed a Little Free Pantry in front of her home, and she’s thrilled with how it’s affected her neighborhood.
“It’s really been a unique experience,” Engelke — the cofounder of Cooperation Humboldt — told the Outpost. “People stop and use it multiple times a day. We’ve had more conversations with our neighbors than we ever have.”
Inspired by other Little Free Pantry programs around the country, Cooperation Humboldt implemented this program as way for people to share food and other goods with those in need. The blue boxes, made out of old newspaper vending machines, are installed outside of homes or business, and people can take or contribute pretty much whatever they want, whenever they want.
Cooperation Humboldt board member Tamara McFarland told the Outpost that one of the biggest advantages of the program is people can access the pantries any time of the day or night. McFarland helped start the program over two months ago, initially aiming it towards those who can’t afford or easily access food.
“We believe that healthy food is a basic human right and should not be based on wealth or income,” she said, noting that a similar phrase is posted on the side of all of the pantries.
McFarland told the Outpost the pantries are not only beneficial for those reasons. They also serve as a great way to reduce food waste. If someone buys food they don’t like, or has too much of something that might expire, McFarland said dropping it off at a pantry is a great alternative to throwing it in the trash.
The pantries can also be used for non food items. McFarland says she and other folks stock the pantry in front of her home with toothpaste, shampoo, other hygiene products, school supplies and even condoms.
“The condoms go really fast,” she said.
Five Little Free Pantries have been installed in Eureka so far. In addition to McFarland and Engelke’s homes, there is one in front of a home on Fairfield Street, one in front of the Labor Temple at 8th and E Streets and, most recently, one was installed in front of the Humboldt Area Center for Harm Reduction (HACHR) on Third Street.
HACHR Program Coordinator Jessica Smith told the Outpost that the LFP has been awesome for them. “People are definitely utilizing it. We fill it everyday with non-perishable food as well as sanitary and hygiene products,” she said.
The LFP program is just one of several programs implemented by Cooperation Humboldt, who focus is to help develop a “solidarity economy” — an economy which emphasizes cooperation and collaboration, rather than competition.
“There’s so many ways that we can be collaborative and more cooperative in our neighborhoods, McFarland said. “What excites me about [the pantries] is they’re an interesting way to strengthen bonds within neighborhoods.”
If you’re interested in being a pantry steward, McFarland says she still has nine boxes that are ready for a home. You can volunteer by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by joining the Cooperation Humboldt Little Free Pantry Program group on Facebook.
Stewards are responsible for basic maintenance, like keeping the boxes clean. But Engelke told the Outpost that this hasn’t been a problem for her at all. “I haven’t found any trash in it ever. No one’s tagged it. No one leaves trash outside,” she said.
What was the only vandalism Engelke had ever experienced? “I found it decorated with flowers one day,” she said.