A new no-barrier food pantry is now open to help North Delta residents facing food insecurity.
On Saturday morning (June 10), Crossroads United Church and its community partners held an official opening celebration for Nick’s Nook 4, an initiative that provides 24-7 access to free non-perishable grocery items.
The green-and-black wooden structure, built by parishioner Rob Watson and decorated with art painted by some of the congregation’s children, stands in the northwest corner of the back parking lot of the church, located at 7655 120th St.
As its name suggests, it is the fourth free pantry to open in the community after the first Nick’s Nook at Northside Church (11300 84th Ave.), Nick’s Nook 2 at New Hope Church (11838 88th Ave.) and Nick’s Nook 3 at Sunshine Ridge Church (6230 120th St., Surrey).
“Our nooks belong to everyone here in North Delta, and our residents have become the stewards of this resource and have stepped up in the most amazing way to share responsibility and to support the community’s members,” Cathie Watters, United Way’s community builder for North Delta, said at Saturday’s opening.
The original Nick’s Nook, which opened in July of 2021, was created by local grassroots group Magical Hearts in partnership with the United Way’s Hi Neighbour program.
It was named after Cathie’s grandson, Nickolas Watters, a Sands Secondary student who lost his battle with lung disease at age 18 but whose short life led to changes in B.C.’s laws “that resulted in significant amendments to the care and resources available to families with disabled children,” she said.
“The nooks continue to honour his legacy.”
Since then, the project has become “a model and an inspiration for not only our community, but for other communities around the province,” Watters said, adding some local students are currently writing a children’s book telling the story of Nick’s Nook.
“Our small pantry is a unique food source. We are there 24-7, we’re no barriers, no shame, no judgment, no stigma, and it’s a resource available to everybody. The premise is simple: take what you need for today, leave what you can for tomorrow.”
Though the service is anonymous, Watters conservatively estimates that from July of 2021 through to January of this year, the first three Nick’s Nooks together have been visited at least 15,000 times, noting she’s heard from many residents who are thankful for the service and use it regularly.
“The 17-year-old student who is homeless and living in a shelter, and when asked by her counsellor at school if she needed anything, she said, ‘No thanks, I’m going to Nick’s Nook for dinner tonight.’ The 61-year-old senior who I happened to meet who’s living in her car, and after being renovicted out of her basement suite after 10 years of living there, broke down in tears when she shared her story with us and received a bag of salt-and-vinegar potato ships,” Watters said.
“The seasonal worker who told us that this was a life-saver for him and his family, that when he works he contributes to our nooks, but when he is unemployed he relies on them very strongly. And the grandfather who just got custody of his three autistic grandchildren after his daughter-in-law passed away and is trying to make ends meet — it’s a life-saver for him.
“And the seven Afghan students that I met there on a Saturday night that I thought were just looking at the nook, but they told me they were hungry — only one of them spoke English — and so they took some snacks for the night. And the mom who can’t register anywhere, any food banks or anything, because she’s hiding from an abusive partner so she’s too afraid for any of her information to be out there. And the kids that we see every single day who are on their way to school or on their way back from school that are just hungry and they stop in and get a granola bar or something.
“These are just a very few examples of the personal stories that are shared with us daily from the folks who are using the nooks. There are many, many more.”
Rev. Cari Copeman-Haynes, lead minister at Crossroads United Church, said Nick’s Nook 4 is a “beautiful, anonymous give-and-take” that compliments the church’s other food security efforts.
“Right now people come and knock at the [church] door and say, ‘Can I have some food?’ This is just a beautiful, no shame, no stigma way of coming and taking what you need,” Copeman-Haynes said, adding it will “really add to the beautiful, gracious feeding that is already happening through Crossroads.”
Since 2010, the church has hosted free community meals on the fourth Saturday of every month that are open to all comers.
When the COVID-19 put a stop to in-person gatherings, Crossroads pivoted to create its Community Harvest program as a way to address food insecurity made worse by the pandemic. The program, which continues today even after the return of the monthly meals, allows residents to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables donated by local growers on the first and third Sunday of the month.
“That has proven to be a really big help, not just to seniors who live in our neighbourhood, but to families and newcomer families who have many children,” Copeman-Haynes said. “That has really been established as a food security effort that is valued by folks in the community and is making a difference.”
As well, every Thursday, Earthwise Society delivers fresh produce to Crossroads as part of the Delta Food Coalition’s Harvest Box program. The groceries are then distributed by volunteers at the church to folks in the neighbourhood.
“Food security is having an unprecedented impacted on our communities, and we will tackle this issue with a familiar approach — by mobilizing everyday citizens, by building collaborative solutions like Nick’s Nook, and creating life-saving connections in our communities that we all love and call home,” Watters said.
More local food security resources can be found at deltassist.com/community/food-security-in-delta.