Community Pantry Brings Neighbors Together In The Age Of Social Distancing

“Take freely, give cheerfully.”

These words welcome the residents of Ypsilanti’s to the U-Access Community Pantry, a new resource that is uniting neighbors during a time when they have so many reasons to remain at a distance.

The pantry was created by Ypsilanti native D’Real Graham and local realtor Tyler Weston, Mlive reports. Graham and Weston stocked the front porch of a Depot Town neighborhood home with nonperishable items and household necessities and opened it to the public on March 17, shortly after COVID-19 began to spread through Michigan.

Take Freely Give Cheerfully reads the sign at the YpsilantiU-Access Community Pantry.
Source: Facebook/YpsiLocal
Take Freely Give Cheerfully reads the sign at the YpsilantiU-Access Community Pantry.

Since that time, the pantry has provided immeasurable help to community members, and restored a measure of compassion that might have otherwise gone missing during the pandemic.

D’Real Graham and local realtor Tyler Weston started Ypsi Local and the community pantry.
Source: Facebook/YpsiLocal
D’Real Graham and local realtor Tyler Weston started Ypsi Local and the community pantry.

As the sign says, anyone is welcome to the items on the porch, from canned and boxed goods to fresh vegetables, baby wipes and diapers. And donations are always welcome, though Graham doesn’t mind making runs to the grocery store for more supplies.

“I’m overjoyed when I return to the pantry and food items are off the porch,” he told MLive.

Community members have been finding and leaving food and necessities at the pantry since mid-March.
Source: Facebook/YpsiLocal
Community members have been finding and leaving food and necessities at the pantry since mid-March.

Graham has been organizing donations to the porch pantry through social media channels and over the phone. He keeps the stock rotated as items are taken or dropped off, and makes sure everything is clean and kept at the right temperature, so there’s minimal risk of transmitting disease.

“I find joy in knowing that other people are considering ways to repurpose facilities or their day-to-day to demonstrate solidarity in mutual aid,” he said. “By seeing, hearing and knowing there are people practicing collective ways of existing, and putting to the side or dismissing their individualistic ways, has helped me remain encouraged.”

The selection of food at the pantry is growing, and so is local support.
Source: Facebook/YpsiLocal
The selection of food at the pantry is growing, and so is local support.

Weston owns the home and uses it as an office for his real estate business. Alongside that and the pantry, the building serves as a resource where locals can learn about the community’s history and the work being done to make it a more equitable place for all.

A sign near the pantry shows off other community resources.
Source: Facebook/YpsiLocal
A sign near the pantry shows off other community resources.

“These are tough times – especially tough for those most vulnerable,” Weston told MLive. “As a community, we need to work toward what we can do to care for those in most need and innovate solutions to our community’s problem. In times like these, we clearly see that no person is going to come to save us. We need to be active participants in solutions for our community and neighbors.”

Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.

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