Volunteers in Westchester are providing food to those in need

By Haley Beyer

Westchester resident and Y board member John Sharpe came up with the idea for the community pantry, which is available at the Westchester Family YMCA 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

After seeing a newspaper article about the Fridge Project, a series of community-run fridges across the city that provided free food to the public, Westchester resident and YMCA board member John Sharpe knew he had to follow suit.

To help combat the growing food insecurity problem in his community, he founded the Painted Pantry Project. He decided against a fridge program because he did not want to include perishable food during his first go-around. 

The community pantry officially opened on Feb. 8 and will remain open 24 hours a day, seven days a week at the Westchester Family YMCA.

Sharpe began by collecting donations from his friends and community members at his house in January so the pantry would be fully stocked when it opened. Donations are accepted at the YMCA from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Friday. The team is hoping to partner with other organizations around the community to create more donation sites.

At the opening ceremony, the team celebrated the pantry while following COVID-19 regulations. Instead of cutting a big ribbon, each person in attendance was given a miniature ribbon. They were asked to write messages of unity and hope on the ribbons before tying them on the fence surrounding the pantry.

The only way for the Painted Pantry Project to remain open is with public, Westchester Family YMCA and the Westchester Rotary Club support.

“I truly believe that if we are going to survive as a species, we are going to have to re-communitize and take care of each other,” Sharpe said. “This project provides a very direct example of the community coming together to help neighbors who are in need during this time of crisis.”

If everything goes as quickly as expected, the Painted Pantry will need more food soon. Accepted donations include canned goods (vegetables, meats, soup and fruit), cereal and grains, shelf stable milk, water and healthy snacks (almost anything unperishable). Sharpe’s neighbor was kind enough to put together 100 personal hygiene kits that will be included as well.

The team behind the Painted Pantry wasn’t expecting to see such a great response to its plea for help.

“I’ve been inspired by the outpouring of donations and people contacting me looking to help, it gives me hope that our ‘better selves’ can prevail,” Sharpe said.

The YMCA will look over the pantry to make sure it is running smoothly by inventorying the stock, providing the location for staging and collecting donations (food and financial). Volunteers called the “Pantry Patrol” will be responsible for keeping the pantry clean and stocked.

Anyone who needs food assistance has full access to the pantry 24/7 to take what they need. As the food and supplies run out, it will be replenished. If donations start to run low, the Painted Pantry Project team will shop as needed with the support of the Westchester Rotary Club and others, though donations are preferred as the main source of inventory.   

For more information and to help, send an email to paintedpantryproject@gmail.com and follow them on Instagram at @paintedpantryproject

How to Help:

– Donate at the Westchester Family YMCA 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Friday

– Join the Pantry Patrol roster as a volunteer for future sites

– Spread the word about the project on social media

– Participate in food drives  and donate product

– Provide financial assistance via ymcaLA.org/wcgive (mention Pantry in the notes/comments field)