How a community pantry is bringing locals together in Emu Plains

Eugene Mathyi, Joyce Hammerton and Jane Chen at the pantry. Photo: Melinda Jane.
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Pantries are one of the most open doors in the family home, but for some, this isn’t a luxury they have access to on a regular basis. Now, one Emu Plains mum has taken matters into her own hands.

Inspired by other street pantries she’d seen popping up in other communities around Sydney and in South Australia, Lisa Mamo decided to create her own last October, with just a small cupboard that was found in a landfill pile on the side of the road, and a few staples from her pantry.

Though she had been thinking about starting the pantry for a while, she admits not a lot of planning went into the resource side of it, waiting to see how the local community would respond.

“We just kind of found this cupboard on the side of the road and went, ‘Yep, that will do for now, and if this works, we’ll be guided by how the journey goes, and what feedback we get from the community as to what we need to change’,” Mamo said.

The pantry runs as a gift economy, wherein those who engage with it are asked to take what they need, and give what they can. It’s because of this that the pantry is consistently filled to the brim with homegrown produce, pantry staples, and more.

Mamo committed to a three-month ‘probation period’ with the pantry before realising it had become much bigger than she anticipated.

Last month, the pantry was upgraded to a fridge, which adds both space, and protection from the elements.

Overall, Mamo said that the conversations she’s been able to have with those engaging with the pantry is her favourite thing to come from the initiative. This feedback has also given her even more motivation to continue with the project.

“A couple of really generous people, as their way of expressing gratitude, have even left little jars of jams or things that they’re making on my doorstep, or left a Christmas card in the letterbox. Everyone has been really grateful and appreciative,” she said.

“A gentleman actually said to me, just after Christmas, that he just really authentically wanted to thank me, because it really helped his family through that period. To know that it’s reaching people on a deeper level who really have that sense of need has been really humbling.”

The fridge now has its own Instagram page, @little_green_gem_on_emerald, and logo.

Despite Mamo’s four-year-old daughter being currently in charge of upkeep, she’s been overwhelmed by the community’s contribution to the pantry, and is hoping that will only continue to grow and become almost entirely sufficient on this engagement.

“While the pantry is located on the land where I reside, it doesn’t belong to me. I may have put it there, but I feel that it’s a community resource that’s not only engaged with by the community, but also maintained by the community,” Mamo said.

“I’m really encouraging people on social media to not just bring things, but to stack them in and make them look presentable. I’m really wanting the community to manage it and be fully engaged with it, and for there to be a sense of responsibility around that, so that eventually, if one day I was to move, it could potentially stay where it is, and the community could continue to operate it.”

The street pantry is located at 34 Emerald Street, Emu Plains.

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