One of the South Side’s newest little free pantries is helping provide Harlandale neighborhood residents in need with everything from food to clothes.
The Harlandale Sunshine Pantry, 935 Drury Lane, is open around the clock. During the recent storm, which paralyzed the region for days with ice and snow, the little shop became even more of a necessity, said founder Lotus Rios.
“The South Side is very much in need,” she said.
The pantry is a self-standing, unmanned container.
Rios got the idea for the supply unit after volunteering months ago at Folklores Coffee House’s South Side location. She brought nutrition to older adults, the disabled, undocumented immigrants and others adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
When Rios began assisting a fellow volunteer with deliveries elsewhere, she realized the depth of the wider community’s hardship.
Rios was eager to do more when, last August, she suffered a mild stroke. No longer able to contribute at Folklores, the volunteer during her recovery reflected on those who touched her life when they required assistance.
“I remembered everyone who I was serving and needed even more help,” she said. A short time later, Rios came upon a Facebook post about the Jovita Idár Little Library and Pantry on the West Side.
With aid from those organizers, her sister Marissa Gutierrez and others, Rios opened a similar place for her neighborhood.
She set up a GoFundMe — https://tinyurl.com/sunshinepantry — to raise money to stock the Harlandale pantry, plus maintain and improve the structure.
The sisters also use social media to promote the larder, as well as encourage monetary and in-kind donations.
“It let me do what I was doing before because there’s a lot of need out here,” Rios added.
She recently bought a full-size refrigerator to hold a wider range of produce, meats and other perishables.
Rios and her crew disinfect the small pantry and its items. They also encourage patrons to wear masks, use sanitizer and practice physical distancing there.
According to the pantry’s creator, community response was initially wary, as some felt too proud to ask for help.
“But when a neighbor falls, we all fall. We have to help each other,” she added.
The Harlandale Sunshine Pantry’s Facebook page brims with people grateful for Rios and her efforts.
“You are a godsend. Thank you for being there for me and everyone,” resident Irma Castillo said.
The Harlandale pantry, among others, proved invaluable to those who went without power or water for days during February’s wintry blast. Many individuals gathered items for meals or warm clothes.
“We were seeing so many people use the pantry. We had to restock it four or five times,” Rios said.
Someone even stole a wooden shelf during the storm. Rios guessed it was burned for warmth or to heat food.
The severe weather, further exposed the South Side’s socioeconomic challenges, she said.
There have been setbacks with the pantry, too. Vandals tried to pilfer an older refrigerator and a cabinet containing household cleaners and hygiene items.
Despite such obstacles, the organizers soldier on.
They’re getting aid to grow a garden, which will supply the store with fruits and vegetables.
“It’s also educational because neighbors learn to build their own garden and be self-sustaining,” Rios said. “We have to watch out for each other.”