Gaia’s Pantry Open For Business At Unitarian Church

Felix Fellenz dropping off donations recently at Gaia’s Pantry on Sage. Photo by Emily Schultz-Fellenz

By KIRSTEN LASKEY
Los Alamos Daily Post
kirsten@ladailypost.com

The idea behind the Unitarian Church of Los Alamos’ Gaia’s Pantry is simple; take what food items are needed and leave food that can be donated.

The pantry, named after the Greek goddess of nature, opened for business this week in the church parking lot, 1738 North Sage St., but the idea percolated in the minds of the congregation for some time.

Unitarian Church member Kokheong McNaughton said she was introduced to curbside food pantries through a friend who attends the Trinity on the Hill Episcopal Church, which also maintains a food pantry.

The idea was brought up again at the Unitarian Church’s most recent grounds committee’s annual meeting, she said.

Unitarian Church member Jamie Civitello added the church’s board of trustees was presented with, and approved, a request for money to purchase an outdoor food cabinet. She said money collected for a now-discontinued program called Project Lunch Box, which provided lunches to middle school students who had either forgotten their lunches or couldn’t afford to buy one, also was used to fund the food pantry.

Civitello said she works at Bandelier National Monument and she recommended purchasing the cabinet for the pantry through a vendor that the national park uses. A large, dark green metal cabinet was selected due to it being resistant to bears and other wildlife as well as for its size.

“We are all glad that we got a big one because there really is such a need out there for lots of people,” she said.

Because the cabinet is bear-proof, there are instructions on the handle on how to open it, McNaughton said. She added it is recommended to leave only non-perishable food in the cabinet.

The food pantry serves numerous purposes, McNaughton said. With COVID-19 still going strong, individuals who only need one ingredient or food item for a meal but are concerned about going into a crowded grocery store can avoid it by looking in the pantry. Furthermore, she said the pantry can help reduce food waste. If shoppers bought more than what they needed or discovered they have duplicates of certain food items, these surplus food stuffs can go into the pantry.

But the pantry’s biggest mission is to help fight food insecurity, McNaughton said.

“Basically, it is for people to give food away … help with the food insecurity,” she said.

Civitello agreed.

“Food insecurity is always an issue in pretty much every community, including ours,” she said. “But now especially, I think our church wants to reach the community and help … this project was poised to happen … we must go forward (because) there is so much food insecurity now …”

She added because the pantry is big, there is room to be creative. Ideas have been batted around to install a small cooler for fresh herbs or provide toiletries.

The food pantry hasn’t been in business for long, but it is already getting attention.

For instance, McNaughton said a young boy, Felix Fellenz of Los Alamos, had collected food items that were originally intended to go a local food bank. However, due to COVID-19 concerns, local food banks are not accepting donations. So Fellenz took his food items to Gaia’s Pantry.

“I don’t foresee us having problems stocking it, that’s for sure,” Civitello said. “It’s going to be all about getting the word out (and) ensuring people feel comfortable approaching the box, taking things from it.”

The hope is to decorate the cabinet to make it more eye-catching, she said.

For more information about food pantry, it is recommended to call the church’s office at 505.662.2346. Information on Gaia’s Pantry also is posted on the church’s website, https://www.uulosalamos.org/ and on its Facebook Page.

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