The giving spirit

Community

Inspired by his own life experiences and facing his own difficult situations, Dustin Madden knew that people would need help once the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With a few hundred dollars he had saved, he decided it would be put to good use going to help out others in Pictou County.

So he started Dustin’s Community Free Share Pantry.

Since his initial few bins stocked with food and supplies, Madden and Lee Cowan, who has been helping him run and organize the pantry, have received lots of donations and even a building to house the pantry and the carpentry service to fix up the building. Madden added a special thanks to Nick Rushton of Rushton’s structural lifters and movers who donated the building as well as JJC Carpentry in Westville who have donated the time, insulation, shingles and carpeting to fix up the small building.

“There’s obviously a need here, we run out of things constantly,” said Cowan. Madden added that the donations they have been getting have been tremendously helpful, and there are people who simply leave a bag or box of supplies in the pantry.

“Every hour we come out and there’s bags of stuff people dropped off,” he said. “It really took off so much faster than I thought.”

Although they are loving the community support, the pair don’t always have the means to house some of the larger items that people might need, so they often refer those looking for furniture or similar things to the Facebook page “New Glasgow and Area Freebees.” This allows people to acquire some bigger things that the small baby barn pantry cannot house.

The organizers are hoping to start stocking up on some of the items that they are seeing fly off the shelves lately. Madden mentioned that personal hygiene products like deodorant, toothpaste and brushes, feminine hygiene products and such always go fast. Fresh and healthy food options also quickly disappear. Non-perishable food is appreciated and Madden shared that just because you do not have a lot of money or need some help it doesn’t mean you don’t still need to eat healthy. He feels that many people, knowing that they are collecting for people who cannot afford to buy everything, tend to donate expired foods or things they find in the back of the cupboard.

“Right now we’re looking for winter clothes,” said Cowan. They are working on amassing winter clothing and other winter comforts as things like boots and adult winter jackets — even from second-hand stores — can still be expensive. Cowan shared that many people, unfortunately, have to pick whether themselves or their children will get warm winter clothes, so they go without to provide for their children.

Baby food and baby supplies always go fast, they said. Items like diapers and baby food can be expensive but are necessary for parents of small children. They have begun collecting brand new toys for a toy drive put on by JJC Carpentry to help out people who cannot afford to provide these extras for their kids at Christmas.

Madden and Cowan will even do pick-ups and drop-offs of supplies for those who might not be able to get to or from the free pantry location at 11 Acadia Avenue in Stellarton, just behind the Stellarton Sobeys store.

“I won’t let people go hungry,” said Madden. “If you need food I will take it to you.”

For those who can make it to the free pantry, there are no operating hours, it is always open for those who need to stop in and take what they need or leave donations. Madden shared that he wanted to make it open 24/7 so as to provide no judgment to those who stop in to get supplies. He was concerned when he first received the building as some people did not see the supplies near the sidewalk and thought that meant that the pantry was done. Although the new building is back off the road a bit more, he has now put up plenty of signs for people. He also shared that if he or Cowan are out and about in the pantry or the yard that people don’t have to worry and are still more than welcome to come to get what they are looking for.

“It’s none of my business why you’re here,” he shrugged.

Lee Cowan, left, and Dustin Madden stock up the shelves of the free pantry in its new building at the same location at 11 Acadia Street, Stellarton. The pantry is always open for anyone to stop in and leave a donation or take what they need. (Brimicombe photo)