As co-owner of the Hair Affair salon on Bluffton Road, Kathy Freiburger likes to keep her business looking good – and involved in the Waynedale community.
Just last year, she had an expansive new mural painted on the side of her building at 6220 Bluffton Road by a local artist. And now, she and her business partner, Karen McClain, have agreed to have a community pantry installed outside their shop in the coming weeks.
Pantries such as this one, are part of a growing community effort that has locations all over Fort Wayne, including the new Waynedale addition.
According to Sarah Thompson, co-founder of Forward Indiana, the group that helps install the pantries, the Hair Affair spot will open as soon as the equipment is prepared and painted.
“These are a form of mutual aid and are community-sustaining,” Thompson said. “It’s a give-what-you-can, take-what-you-need philosophy.”
The elaborately-painted community pantries have been popping up around Fort Wayne, catalyzed with the help of Forward Indiana, a non-profit agency that helps foster the pantries.
The simple idea behind community pantries is for folks to leave non-perishable food items and hygiene donations whenever they like, and then to allow anyone to take the donated items whenever – and however much – they need.
The pantries are basically painted shelves located outside local businesses where people can drop off and pick up food 24/7, Thompson said. There are currently five pantry locations in Fort Wayne, including one at Fancy & Staple, located at 1111 Broadway Street.
Fancy & Staple owner Taber Olinger said the pantry outside her store – which sells everything from clothing to home décor — was one of the first in the city, installed in January of this year. She said deciding to host the pantry was an easy decision.
“I just thought it was a great idea,” she said, “It was easy, and it’s a great way of serving the community.” She noted that the pantry stays busy most hours of the day and night.
“There’s probably someone who drops off or picks up (food) every half hour, at least” she said.
And that’s exactly the idea, according to Thompson. “It’s 24/7 access; there’s no requirements. It’s for everybody,” she said.
Another panty sits outside the Bravas restaurant, 3412 Fairfield Avenue; that location recently named “The Fair Fridge,” even includes a refrigerator/freezer if community members folks would like to donate cold items, such as milk, yogurt, or cheese. This location even has an Instagram handle, @thefairfridge, if people would like to follow it.
The local composting group Dirt Wain has partnered with The Fair Fridge pantry, allowing its customers to leave out donation items that they will pick up when they collect household compost, then put the items in the pantry for their customers.
Other sites around town that host the pantries include the Glass Park, 4235 Fairfield Ave.; The Muse on Main, at 1332 W. Main; Faith United Methodist Church, 2121 S. Clinton; and Banh Mi Pho, at 1925 Fairfield Ave.
There’s also one located in Leesburg, about 50 miles east of Fort Wayne, Thompson noted.
As for the Waynedale site? While it’s still in the planning stages, it’s almost assuredly on its way.
“The Waynedale pantry is definitely coming,” Thompson said. “We’re just waiting on the artist to finish (painting) it. It will be there within the next month.”
And while Forward Indiana doesn’t directly pay to fill the cabinets with food, the group helps as much as possible.
“We purchase the cabinet, we assign an artist to paint it, then we install it,” said Thompson, one of the artists who has painted pantries. “Then, the community steps in and takes it from there.”
One artist who has applied her work to a pantry is Lyndy Bazile, who said she was not only excited about showcasing her work, but also helping the less fortunate.
“I like that my work is helping people in need,” Bazile said, “but I see it more as building community.”
Another pantry artist, Bridget O’Brien, agreed. “Art is so important in catching people’s eye,” she said, “and I’m just hoping my work will give people the idea of food falling onto each other’s plates, and the notion of give-what-you-can, take-what-you-need, which is their whole philosophy.”
Forward Indiana also uses its social media presence to advertise the pantries, letting folks know where they’re located, and what foods might be needed to fill its shelves.
Items most in need for the pantries include water, canned goods, dry pasta, sauces, cereals, and hygiene items.
The group likes to stress that the work they do around town is “solidarity, not charity,” meaning they prefer to help others help the community.
“It’s a grass-root, community-action group,” Thompson explained.
Added a Forward Indiana official: “We are about solidarity, not charity. Charity is vertical; it goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal: It realizes all relationships and power dynamics are multi-directional and acknowledges that everyone has wisdom and resources to solve problems.”
Freiburger and McClain, co-owners of Hair Affair, said they both believe hosting the first community pantry in Waynedale is a win-win – a victory for those in need of food, and for the Waynedale community, in general.
“We just thought it was a great idea,” Freiburger said. “And it’s something we could really use on this side of town.