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City to build “Little Free Pantries” for the hungry

The neighborhoods of Riverside have a new opportunity to reach those impacted by food insecurity by adopting a Little Free Pantry, sponsored by the city. 

The city’s Community and Economic Development Department was granted funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act last year which was used to purchase Little Free Pantry kits. They are standalone structures that can be installed on most any street and individuals experiencing food insecurity will be able to take non perishable food items that are donated and placed inside. 

The CEDD reached out to Riverside Mutual Aid Network (RMAN) last September seeking partnership in the launch. The RMAN is a group of volunteers who serve by developing channels that direct available resources to those in need. 

Aram Ayra, one of RMAN’s founders, said his team was working on a similar initiative when the city reached out to them. “We think a program like this will further that culture of neighbors taking care of neighbors and remind people that we are responsible for each others’ well being,” he said. 

Marci Coffey, director of community partnerships with Inland Empire Health Plans, joined her volunteer team into the initiative and said this will be a sustainable way to assist the vulnerable in Riverside. “There are so many members who call us and need things. Food continues to be the top one,” she said. “There’s always a need for it, but with the pandemic there’s a lot more need.”

The RMAN team will be responsible for the installation and management of the pantries but Ayra said it will ultimately be a community-wide effort. “The goal is to have community groups, faith-based (organizations), small businesses and concerned neighbors to take charge and adopt the pantries and manage them.”

“Everyone involved wants to put the support back into the hands of the neighbor rather than to rely on government or non profit help,” Ayra said.

Representatives with the CEDD office were unable to be reached for comment.