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A little goes a long way

COMMUNITY

When a mini street library popped up in Jesse McClard’s neighbourhood she had a lightbulb moment: why not adapt the idea to provide people in need with food? “There was something going on . . . and it seemed to have something to do with a need to reconnect with our neighbours,” McClard told The Washington Post. “It wasn’t so much about what went inside the space as the space itself — and I just knew I was going to put food in it. I was determined to do it.” And so the world’s first Little Free Pantry opened in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in May 2016. Three years on, and the number of free pantries in the US alone has grown to 600-or so. 

In common with street libraries, the free pantries are easily accessible and passers-by can add to, swap something or take away from them as they like. As well as canned goods such as baked beans, jam and tuna, nappies, soap, toothpaste and toilet paper are also popular items stocked in the street-side wooden cabinets. McClard invites people to take action and “make good change from the bottom up”. And people have risen to the challenge: there are free pantries in Canada, the Netherlands, and Australia. 

As the street libraries spawned the pantries, so the pantries have led to a similar initiative taking shape: the Freedge. The scheme — with its message “Give. Take. Share.” — encourages people to install community refrigerators where perishable foodstuffs can be stored for public consumption. Those who install the community fridge are responsible for checking it daily, removing any food no longer fit to eat, and cleaning it once a week. The idea originated in the UK where there are currently more than 50 Freedges in existence. Community fridges can also be found in North America, South America, and across Europe.  

It was with the same community spirit that, in 2014, high-school friends Luca Patchett and Nick Marchesi created the world’s first mobile laundry. The two young men from Queensland, Australia, stuffed a washing machine and dryer into an old van with an aim to provide a free laundry service for the local homeless. Flash-forward five years and, with the help of 800 volunteers, Orange Sky Laundry has 14 vans on the road in 72 locations across Australia. In 2016, Orange Sky branched out by offering free hot showers with specially adapted vans operating in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. “It’s another way to connect [the homeless] with the services that they need to help themselves,” Patchett told SBS News. It seems, when it comes to community action, a little goes a long way . . .

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