A free community pantry stocked with food, toiletries and household items opens Monday, Jan. 29, on Lorraine Street in north Baton Rouge.
Underway since last April, the project is a donation to the city by the area’s largest young professionals organization, Forum 225. The pantry is located behind the Delmont Gardens Branch Library and will be open 24/7.
“We have a lot of canned foods, water and tons of hygiene products,” says Forum 225 Service Chair Laine Peterson. “It’s really just an open place for anybody to come and get what they may need.”
The community is also encouraged to drop off appropriate donations to the site if they are able, organizers say.
The pantry was made possible by several partners, volunteers from Forum 225 and more than $4,000 in in-kind donations. Forum 225 member Taylor Brignac of HoneyB Construction donated plans and supplies and served as the project’s contractor. Hagan Fence and Holmes Building Materials also contributed supplies. The Delmont Gardens Branch Library poured the slab for the project last year.
One side of the shed is decorated with a mural by artist Debbie Downey of Deb Designs Murals. The image depicts a heart comprised of images of nutritious foods. Peterson says Downey outlined the mural in paint-by-numbers fashion, enabling volunteers to help fill in the design with paint shades hand-mixed by Downey.
Peterson says the organization researched the two community refrigerator locations on Government Street operated by Baton Rouge Community Fridge as models for the Delmont Gardens project. Such donation sites aim to give immediate relief to residents struggling to make ends meet. The parish’s poverty rate is 18.5%, according to census data.
Ultimately, however, Forum 225 decided a better fit would be a pantry and resource shed supplied with nonperishable foods and household items. The organization, which has about 350 members, will maintain the site. Volunteers will check on it periodically and restock it with donated supplies.
Forum 225 President Tyler Litt says the goal was to build a “beautiful space that was super welcoming.”
“We wanted to make sure that people had no barriers to access,” Litt says. “And where they feel welcome not only to take from it, but also to contribute.”
Along with canned goods, baby food and other shelf-stable foods, the pantry stocks pet food, deodorant, toothbrushes and toothpaste, blankets, hand warmers, sports drinks, paper towels and toilet paper. Period products are also on offer, helping to address the chronic issue of period poverty. Litt says that Forum 225 has previously worked with organizations like the Power Pump Girls and Youth Oasis to raise donations for feminine hygiene products, which many women and girls cannot afford to purchase.
Litt says that while Forum 225 does not yet have plans to create additional community pantries, it will draft “a blueprint” documenting how the project came together.
“We would love for this to kind of spark interest for other people across the city,” she says.
To naysayers who suggest an unmonitored pantry might be subject to vandalism, Litt says the opposite is often true when the community is involved.
“What you usually find, especially when you’ve created intentional community partnerships, like with the library, is that people come around in solidarity,” Litt says. “And from what I’ve seen in other projects, if something happens, you usually see the community jump in to help.”
A ribbon cutting for Forum 225’s new Community Pantry and Resource Shed will take place on Monday, Jan. 29, at 3351 Lorraine St. at 4 p.m. For information on how to donate, contact Forum 225 Service Chair Laine Peterson at [email protected].