Self-affirmation in the shape of a Little Free Pantry
I feel better. Not that being messy, being late and swearing are negative traits in my book
Don’t you just love stories that justify (some of ) our most annoying behaviours?
“Messy, always late and swear like a sailor? It just means you’re super smart,” reads the headline in the Guardian. Obviously. “Recent studies suggest traits often seen as negative could actually signify high brain power,” the story continues. “Truth or merely self-affirmation?” Truth. Absolutely. I’ll save you some time — the gist of the above story was not necessarily that if you’re rude and crude you’re smarter than everyone (aw). But rather that if lately it feels like your social media feeds have been inundated with “studies” affirming your suckiest personality traits, stories that confirm you truly are better than everyone else (knew it!), you’re not wrong. Your feeds have been full of such stories. (Not that being messy, being late and swearing are negative traits in my book.)
We live in an age of self-affirmation — which is great when you’re talking about self love, self-care and the like. Maybe not so much, though, when it comes to owning up to the not-so-great stuff, but y’know … that’s a topic for another day. Anyway, because we want to read stories that make us feel better about ourselves, pop science provides us with ample opportunity, the Guardian explains. Like, yeah sure, eating chocolate is great for us. Some study out of Italy says so.
I bring this up because I happened on another story this weekend about a well-intentioned community initiative that is apparently making waves south of the border and out west.
We’ve all seen Little Free Libraries in neighbourhoods scattered across our fair city — those cute little boxes made to look like mini houses perched on stakes where people will leave books for others to pick up. The idea being: pick up a book, leave a book, that sort of thing. I always stop to admire the uniqueness of each one, where they are placed, how they are decorated, what’s been left inside. And if I want to boil it down to Oprah language, seeing them gives me little bursts of joy.
Enter the Little Free Pantry. Same idea, same setup: a box designed to look like a little house (with an animal-proof steel mesh door) in which people can leave non-perishable food items and/or household items like laundry detergent, cleaning products, toiletries, that sort of thing. Leave an item, take an item.
At first blush I think, ‘What a great idea, what a perfectly Hamilton type of project.’ Sort of. Maybe? Something about leaving dangerous household products where kids can easily get at them seems a bit off. But OK, maybe I’m just being irrational. And anyway, I’m sure the people who have planned these things out have thought about all the consequences and feel good about their initiative, right?
They’re trying Little Free Pantries in neighbourhoods in Calgary and Winnipeg, according to the CBC. Everyone interviewed thought it was fabulous, neighbours were lining up to drop off supplies, everyone’s happy. Self-affirmation all around!
So I called the Eva Rothwell Centre in the Keith neighbourhood to find out if they know of any such initiative in Hamilton and whether or not they think it might work here. I spoke with Aaron Steele, whose official title is employment coordinator, but who runs the community clothing room, emergency food pantry and about a million other things. And while Steele thought a Free Little Pantry could be a wonderful way to give someone a quick boost of food, he doesn’t see it as sustainable or as a great solution to a much bigger problem.
“That’s just a Band-Aid,” says Steele, who doesn’t know of any Little Free Pantries being used locally, at least not in the Keith neighbourhood. “We have other programs and resources so we can try and help them to support themselves. So by having them come to a centre like Mission Services or the Good Shepherd, there’s more connections they can make to help them with any of their ailments they have to deal with.”
Issues like finding affordable housing and employment, for instance. And what if someone becomes dependent on one of these pantries and the person who tends to stock it most goes on vacation or can’t contribute any more or moves, etc.?
The worrier in me already sees trouble brewing. Because, again, the Free Little Pantry does seem like a well-meaning initiative and Hamilton is a well-meaning town. But Steele hopes that if someone has extra food, they’ll consider donating to an organization that looks at the bigger picture and can distribute it to the people who need it most.
And then we can collectively feel good for not falling for a trend that is more about patting ourselves on the back than it is about working for the greater good.
Because we want to read stories that make us feel better about ourselves, pop science provides us with ample opportunity.
A touring delegation views the emergency food pantry at the Eva Rothwell Resource Centre as part of a three-day poverty conference in April.