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Local free pantries get boost from businesses, community to stay stocked amid pandemic

Courtesy: Leah Wood
The first Little Free Pantry stands at 695 Pismo Street in San Luis Obispo.

HelpSLO is a local mutual aid Facebook group that started back in March of 2020 in response to the pandemic.

In addition to other activities, group members began building and filling pantries around the county where people can visit to pick up things like food or hygiene products for free.

Leah Wood is the founder of HelpSLO. She said the mutual aid group is a way for people in San Luis Obispo County to come together. She said people use the group for all kinds of help.

“It’s only to post for some kind of ask like, ‘I need this.’ And it’s only to respond or to post an offer like, ‘I have this. Who needs this?’ And so it’s been everything,” Wood said.

Wood said she’s seen people deliver medicine to a stranger’s home who was unable to leave the house.

She said she’s even seen dentists offer help to an immunocompromised child who needed care early in the pandemic.

Wood said the Little Free Pantries were born out of the HelpSLO group and built up by community members to be placed on curbs in front of homes and churches.

They are stocked with donated canned goods, shelf-stable food, hygiene products and new socks and underwear.

There are now more than 30 of them around the county and Wood said help is needed to keep them stocked.

“It is a really interesting thing to try to find sustainable ways to keep these filled,” Wood said.

She said one of the pantries in Downtown SLO gets so much traffic that it is often completely filled and emptied within two hours.

Wood said she’s figuring out a way now for local businesses to help out by raising money for a specific fund set up with the nonprofit United Way. HelpSLO can then use that money at Trader Joe’s to pay for $20 grocery bags for the pantries.

“We’ve worked with the manager, the Captain, at Trader Joe’s to do that and then she and her team will make as many bags as we can pay for with the check,” Wood said. “Then I can get volunteers to come and pick up these bags and drive them around to the pantries.”

Businesses or community members interested in getting involved with HelpSLO to keep the Little Free Pantries stocked can email or find the contact button here.

Rachel Showalter first joined KCBX as an intern from Cal Poly in 2017. During her time in college, she anchored and reported for Mustang News at Cal Poly's radio station, KCPR. After graduating, she took her first job as a Producer at KSBY-TV. She returned to the KCBX team in October 2020, reporting daily for KCBX News until she moved to the Pacific Northwest in July of 2022. Rachel spends her off-days climbing rocks, cooking artichokes and fighting crosswords with friends.
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