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East Gwillimbury Food Pantry partners with library to reach residents in need

Library and food pantry forge fruitful partnership
July 25, 2019
Simon Martin

A library and a food pantry might not seem like the most natural partners, but in Holland Landing they've forged a partnership that has been fruitful for both parties.

It started when Christine Stewart was looking to alleviate the food bank service gap in Holland Landing. She was alarmed that 40 per cent of the Newmarket Food Pantry’s clientele came from outside the municipality, with the lion’s share coming from East Gwillimbury.

East Gwillimbury already had a food pantry set up in Mount Albert and one in Sharon, but there was nothing in Holland Landing.

When Stewart approached now East Gwillimbury Public Library CEO Monika Machacek, the idea seemed good.

“Let’s find a way to make it happen,” Machacek said.

The East Gwillimbury Food Pantry opened its doors in 2016 and it's been running ever since.

The food pantry is open on the last Saturday of the month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the Holland Landing branch on the lower floor.

As the pantry has become established in the community, Stewart said things have only gotten busier.

“Last May, we served 17 people. This May, we served 53. Our numbers are increasing,” she said. “It might have a lot to do with the current employment situation. A lot of programs being cut.”

With increased demand, Stewart said there is an increased need for donations especially in the summer months. She put out a call for donations on Facebook last month and wasn’t disappointed.

“That is what’s great about the whole small-town living. There was a need and East Gwillimbury answered,” Stewart said.

Clients who come to the food pantry also get a library card.

“It puts us in the line of sight,” Machacek said. The goal of the library is to give people free access to the resources they need, she added.

Information on employment supports, housing assistance and other community services are available. People with low literacy are more likely to experience poverty, Machacek said.

“Our role is to build an inclusive space.”

While a library card is mainly thought of a way to get books, Machacek said it can be gateway to a whole number of things.

“They can sign out our Chromebooks or mobile internet hot spots or sewing machines,” she said.

While many people in the area might feel they are in living in an affluent community, Machacek said it is evident there is still a number of people who are in need of food and other resources. Having the food pantry at the library means a greater chance that they can get the service they need.

“It’s been a very positive experience," Machacek said.

It was so forward-thinking that the East Gwillimbury Public Library was nominated for a Minister’s Award of Innovation. Machacek said more libraries are following the example, whether it be a food pantry or food for fines program.

A viable food pantry can’t sustain itself without dedicated group of volunteers, Stewart said.

“We have a really committed team of unbelievable volunteers,” she said. “Everybody has a different little job.”

Stewart said the pantry is always in need of the food staples like rice, pasta, pasta sauce, cereal and peanut butter. They also benefit from the donation of fresh food items as well.

For those interested in donating items to the pantry, they can drop them off at the Hollland Landing Health Centre at 19415 Yonge St. or Vince’s Market at 19101 Leslie St. in Sharon.