December 5, 2021

Volunteers set up mini pantries

Effort part of work by charities to feed hungry during virus pandemic

Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

Food cabinets like this one at Freeville Village Hall, dot Tompkins County — another one rests at a mobile home park on Lower Creek Road in Dryden. They allow people to donate food, or pick some up.

Out of work, out of money, out of food. As the pandemic lockdown grinds on, more greater Cortland area residents find themselves on the brink of going hungry.

But charities have also been stepping up their efforts to stock food banks and change their methods to get food to people who need it.

Mutual Aid Tompkins implemented one new approach; volunteers have set up mini food pantries in blue cabinets in several locations. The cabinets are stocked with non-perishable food and other items, such as masks and items for infants.

Instructions for use are also posted on the cabinets, including cleaning instructions in order to prevent contamination of the cabinet or its supplies by the novel coronavirus. Each cabinet is stocked with sanitizing spray and cleaning materials.

To learn more

For a map of mini food pantry locations, go to food-sharing/locations.

To learn more about Mutual Aid Tompkins or to volunteer, go online at

“We just don’t want them to become vectors for the virus,” Garcia said.

So far, the group has placed and stocked 30 cabinets in Tompkins County and plans to set up 20 more in the next two weeks, said volunteer Juliana Garcia. The cabinets were built at nominal cost by B & B Flooring of Dryden.

“It’s a big county. So we’re not going to hit everywhere. But we’re trying the best we can to hit the areas that have the highest need,” she said.

While there are a number of existing food pantries and services already, the cabinets are being strategically placed to help people who don’t have their own vehicle. One sits at Fall Creek Parke, a mobile home park on Lower Creek Road in Dryden.

Some of the cabinets saw immediate and heavy use, such as a cabinet in Montgomery Park in Dryden, which needs to be restocked daily, she said.

“Personally, I was not surprised because in this county, food insecurity has always been an issue,” Garcia said. The pandemic lockdown has only made the existing situation worse, she said.

David Fogel, mayor of the village of Freeville, has volunteered to keep an eye on the cabinet set up outside the village offices. Mutual Aid volunteers contacted him about setting up the mini pantry. He thought it was a great idea, so he volunteered to help.

“They seem to be doing a lot of good stuff,” Fogel said.

He encourages Freeville residents to make contributions to the cabinet.

“Mainly food,” he said. “Nonperishable is the key here.”

Cortland County may soon follow the lead of Tompkins, if a volunteer effort gains more traction, said Liz Pickard, a graduate student in food science at Syracuse University who represents the local chapter of the Central New York Young Farmers Coalition.

Pickard set up a Facebook page for a Mutual Aid Cortland County group, and she’s looking for more volunteers – and volunteers who are willing and able to take charge.

“In order to make things happen, there has to be a strong engaged group of people who want to take leadership on things,” Pickard said. “I’m just trying to empower other people.”

The mini pantries are important, she said, because they can open up food access to a wider range of people, including those who might lack transportation to established food pantries.

“Some of the institutions set up already won’t be able to help everyone,” she said.

Pickard encourages Cortland County residents who are interested in setting up cabinets in this county to join the Cortland County Mutual Aid Facebook page.

“What I want to do is recreate some of the momentum that they have in Tompkins County,” she said.