Students with families living at UC Riverside's Oban Family Housing now have access to a small pantry at any time of the day.
Small hand sanitizers, canned veggies, coffee, and other nonperishable food items sit inside the Little Free Pantry, a roughly 2-foot-by-1.5-foot wooden miniature shed-shaped case inspired by the Little Free Library stands that hold free books for the community. At Oban Family Housing the Little Free Pantry hangs on a wall inside the laundry room, which grants residents access 24/7.
This is one of 26 being installed throughout Riverside as part of a collaborative project to help food-insecure neighborhoods or communities. The partnership includes the City of Riverside, Riverside Mutual Aid Network, and Inland Empire Health Plan. So far, five pantries have been installed and 13 are forthcoming, said Josaline Cuesta, City of Riverside Community and Economic Development project assistant.
At Oban, an apartment complex with 136 units, student parents already share food items, and sometimes diapers, said Jazmin Garcia, Oban resident advisor and a student parent. When Garcia learned of little pantries being installed throughout the city, she applied for one.
“Here in Oban, we already share food; some neighbors might have less funds, others just need an immediate item to feed their kids,” Garcia said. “In the laundry room, neighbors are already leaving baby food and other items they want to share.”
COVID-19 has become an added stressor for student parents who do not always have access to food or a job, or who are having a hard time accessing immediate appointments with UCR’s R’Pantry, Garcia said.
When Garcia contacted Housing Services to get support, it was an immediate approval, said Lisa Laws, assistant director of Residential Operations. Facilities Services built and installed the pantry and Oban children helped paint and decorate it.
R’Pantry will be supplying the Oban pantry with a weekly box of essentials, Garcia said.
Little pantries come with a $115 gift card from Home Depot to assist in purchasing items for the build, and an additional $200 gift card to Northgate Market for the initial stock, Cuesta said. The goal behind this free pantry, is to have people take what they need, give what they don’t. Funding for this comes from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act.
“I think that this is amazing,” said Oban resident Yvonne Marquez, a student parent who was there on Friday, March 12, when the pantry was installed. “It’s a start for something we really need – access to a pantry.”
“This is about neighbors helping neighbors. It puts the community at the center of helping each other,” said Aram Ayra, ’18, who co-founded and co-directs Riverside Mutual Aid Network. He helped build a couple pantries and also helped develop some of the proposals for this program.
Andy Melendrez, Riverside councilmember for Ward 2, which includes UCR, visited with students at the Little Free Pantry on Friday. “It’s good for everyone, it’s good for our city,” Melendrez said.