Convenience store owner’s DIY food bank influences similar effort through social media

When a customer at Shawn Chaudhry’s convenience store couldn’t afford to pay for a loaf of bread and a chocolate bar for his child, he knew he had to do something.

He dug out an old cabinet, set it up outside the store in Leamington, Ont., southeast of Windsor, and put $1,000 worth of non-perishable food items inside.

A sign on the cabinet reads, “Food Bank. Humanity First. Give if you can. Take if you need.” The idea was to help people who have been thrown out of work because of the pandemic.

That was just over a month ago. So far, Chaudhry said, Leamington residents have been bringing bags full of food and produce by the scores.

“We have one of the best — [a] generous community — and they were there to help,” said Chaudhry, owner of the Parkdale Store and Auto Service at 40 Seacliff Dr. W.

Chaudhry said he knows of 10 to 15 people who have come into the store to acknowledge they took advantage of the goodwill. Countless others who have wished to remain anonymous. Every day, he finds three to four bags of food items left at the food bank by Good Samaritans.

“We are doing it for the sake of community and not for self-appreciation,” said Chaudhry.

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Chaudhry set up this display case full of food for the needy outside his gas station and convenience store. (Vince Robinet/CBC)

One woman who touched his heart recently was pregnant and couldn’t access help at a local church because it was closed as a result of the pandemic.

“She said that you don’t even know how happy and thankful I am. My baby inside is giving blessing to you people for doing this,” said Chaudhry.

Chaudhry’s mission made it to Facebook and was noticed by massage therapist Tammy Atherton, whose own business has been closed since March.

After learning about Chaudhry’s food bank, she picked up a castaway dresser from a neighbour and started one of her own. She put the dresser at the curb and wrote on it, “DO NOT TAKE ME. I am a food share.”

Tammy Atherton set up her own food share when she took notice of Chaudhry’s efforts. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

She stocked it with some canned goods and it’s even been topped up with more donations by several neighbours. Atherton said she did it to honour a friend whose birthday is coming up.

“I just felt that I love South Walkerville and I think that it’s great to give back to the community and just something small like this I think people have already started to realize it’s here,” said Atherton, adding she doesn’t know of anyone who has taken any food yet.

Chaudhry welcomed and praised Atherton’s similar effort.

“That’s amazing. That’s what exactly we wanted, more and more people … think of all the people, those who are unprivileged, those who really need us. And I’m so happy to see that.” 

Chaudry’s “help yourself” food bank is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. when the store and gas bar are open.

As for Atherton, she plans to donate any food she receives to the June 27 Miracle project, which will see volunteers pick up non-perishable food items from porches in Windsor to benefit the Goodfellows.

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