SAXTONS RIVER, Vt. — It was springtime when Berta Martin found herself on the streets of Burlington. Known for its Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Church Street Marketplace, and views of Lake Champlain, there is certainly much to do and even more to see.
But the sight that Berta happened upon most unexpectedly turned out to be a free pantry full of food for those in need referred to as the Little Free Pantry.
Part of a nationwide movement, Little Free Pantries are sidewalk food shelves that are open 24/7 in which one may “take what you need or leave what you can.”
According to a news release, Berta loved how the pantries were easily accessible to all and a community resource, especially during the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic. So she then put out the word to see if her own community of Saxtons River was supportive of setting up a Little Free Pantry there in the village. At this time in Saxtons River, there were no food shelves or community meals.
The response from the small-knit community was strong, which encouraged her to fundraise for the cost of the materials to build such a structure. It was modeled after similar projects up in the Burlington area, and specifications for building a pantry were available online as was advice from other communities and groups who had started one.
Materials were purchased and her husband, Denny McArdle, volunteered to build the pantry using a mixture of upcycled and new materials. Saxtons River Elementary Student Council and its advisor, teacher Jaimie Douglass, were approached to have SRES students paint and decorate the pantry. The Saxtons River Elementary School Art teacher, Jay Palmisano, painted the signs. The new community building in town at 24 Main St. took on the project and fully supported having the pantry out front of their building as a component of their mission promoting community connection, outreach, and support.
As of Labor Day Weekend, the structure has been installed and is in use. Many thanks to 24 Main Street and the many people in the community who contributed to and continue to support this project. You can be a part of this initiative by dropping off non-perishable food and personal care items at the Little Free Pantry, right out front of 24 Main St. in Saxtons River. Suggested items that can tolerate cold outdoor temperatures include boxed grains and pasta, peanut butter, toothbrushes, granola bars, tuna and baby food pouches, soap, crackers, soup, tortillas, string cheese, pepperoni and summer sausage, cereal, and oatmeal.