One of the great things about my job is that I occasionally get to meet some fantastic people in the community; people that are truly out to help others without regard for themselves.
I was privileged to meet one recently in Kin Park on Alderlea Street, an impressive young lady named Blare Conlin.
Blare is a member of the Cowichan Green Community’s Kin Park Urban Youth Farm team that teaches people how to farm organically in the park.
The park, being in the downtown core and in the middle of the social problems that plague the area, sees a fair share of homeless people who sometimes spend nights there.
A number of them light fires in the park as well to cook food, and that can be potentially hazardous, particularly in the dry season.
I suspect most people (including me) would have considered solving this problem by having security guards patrol the park at night or build higher fences around it to keep people out after hours, but Blare, in her youthful wisdom, came up with a better idea to deal with the issue, so everyone came out a winner.
She decided to build a food pantry, with the help of funding from the Neighbourhood Small Grants program, in the park and fill it with free food that is easily accessible 24/7 to those that need it, and remove the need for homeless people to light fires in the park.
Blare went to the community for help for both the building of the pantry and the food to stock it, and people and groups stepped up to the plate to help her with the project without hesitation.
Carpentry students from Vancouver Island University created the plans for the pantry and built it, and cobb, a natural building material, was installed within the walls of the pantry by Fraser Basin Youth Council and volunteers.
The food that is stocked in the pantry, and there’s quite a variety of it, comes from the Cowichan Green Community’s food recovery program and local food banks; and harm reduction and hygiene supplies like naloxone kits are donated by Lookout Housing and Health Society.
What I liked most of all is that food donated from the general public has begun appearing in the pantry, which means many of the park’s neighbours have seen the value of having the food pantry in the park in terms of keeping the area safer from fires, as well as taking care of the less privileged among us.
Blare told me that, other than stocking the pantry regularly, it is unsupervised the rest of the time and people can feel free to take whatever they need from it anytime they want, or put items into it.
Of course, as a reporter, I had to ask her what would keep someone from taking everything from the pantry at any given time.
Blare said there’s nothing to prevent that, other than people having respect for one another.
“This is not charity; it is sharing between one another, building an interdependence that is much needed in these times,” she said.
“It is meeting each other at eye level, giving what we can and taking what we need. No policing. No judgment. Just respect.”
Being cynical after covering too many stories about horrible individuals and events over the years, I felt at the time that Blare, in her youth, was being a little naive about most people and what they are capable of.
But she informed me that the pantry had been in operation for a number of weeks and, while it has to be stocked frequently, users were generally taking what they needed and leaving the rest for others.
By the end of my conversation with her, the success of the pantry and Blare’s enthusiasm and drive to help where she can had rekindled some of my faith in humanity that had been ebbing in recent years.
We should be thankful that we have people like Blare Conlin living in the Cowichan Valley.
The community would be much better off if we had more like her.