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

The Hamilton Spectator - - LIVING - Sh­eryl@sh­eryl­nadler.com

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.

GARY YOKOYAMA, HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR FILE PHOTO

A tour­ing del­e­ga­tion views the emer­gency food pantry at the Eva Roth­well Resource Cen­tre as part of a three-day poverty con­fer­ence in April.

SH­ERYL NADLER

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