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A judgment-free zone for the hungry

A judgment-free zone for the hungry

By Angela Morefield

One of the biggest problems people face is that they might be going hungry, or without food for their family at all. Some might not even seek help because of fear of being criticized.

Johnson County, like every county, has a hunger problem. Michelle Waugh Dahl, who is also the mother of five children, decided to do something to help this problem when pantries are closed, or people can’t get to them in her Johnson County community. Dahl put a wooden cabinet outside her Franklin house filled with food and toilet paper. Michelle’s Little Free Pantry was then brought to life.

Christina Nelson-Canfield has a little free pantry outside her home in downtown Greenwood. (Photo by Neal Smith)

Christina Nelson-Canfield is following Michelle’s lead and has started a second pantry in Greenwood. “When I went through a divorce in 2006, I felt so alone with a new baby,” Nelson-Canfield said. “I struggled between buying gas or food. I went to food pantries, however, I felt humiliated. They asked a lot of personal questions. So, every time I went somewhere, I would have to tell my story and why I couldn’t provide for me and my child. Many pantries are only open during business hours, which made it impossible for me to go.”

Nelson-Canfield met Waugh Dahl a few years before the first pantry was started; she watched her start everything from the ground up. Nelson-Canfield reached out to Waugh Dahl because she knew the pantry was going be a great success. However, Waugh Dahl was only in Franklin. “I live in a home that has been in my husband’s family for decades and in the heart of downtown Greenwood,” Nelson-Canfield said. “I knew that my house would be a prime location, being close to Isom Elementary school and the Johnson/Marion county line.”

Christine with Michelle Waugh Dahl, the original founder of Michelle’s Little Free Pantry. (Submitted photo)

Nelson-Canfield jumped right on board with Wah Dahl’s concept and vision. Nelson-Canfield started her own Michelle’s Little Free Pantry in June. “I feel as though all of my life experiences have led me to this opportunity,” Nelson-Canfield said. “I know that helping the community is something I have always wanted to do in one way or another. I am proud to work with Michelle and bring a light to food insecurity. We understand it because we have both lived it. She is now my soul sister.”

Mandy Hardebeck volunteers at Michelle’s Little Free Pantry. “I’ve known Michelle for years,” Hardebeck said. “I started helping Michelle because I wanted to support my friends and also because I have a very strong-willed daughter who needs strong female role models. She has taken to Michelle and her daughter Grace and looks up to them so much, so we got involved.”  Hardebeck has a full-time job so she doesn’t get to put as much into the pantry as she would like, but she enjoys doing the smaller stuff that she can take off of Waugh Dahl’s plate so she can focus on bigger things. “Really I just support her in this,” said Hardebeck.

Local girl scout troop 2805 assisted with building a garden for the first Michelle’s Little Free Pantry. (Submitted photo)

Michelle Waugh Dahl, for her efforts to serve others while bringing her community together around a movement of compassion, was named Community Hero of the Month for August 2019.

For more information, visit Michelle’s Little Pantry on Facebook.

Five Questions with Christina Nelson-Canfield

  1. What do you like most about helping? Seeing people and kids get excited for free clothing and toys. Knowing that the food and clothing is some relief or comfort to a family when they can’t afford it otherwise.
  1. What is your advice to those in need? Organizations are not a one-size-fits-all. So, stand up for yourself and don’t give up. If someone can’t help you, ask if they know an organization that can. A little research into what they provide goes a long way.
  2. What is your biggest hope for the pantry? My biggest hope is to be able to provide for anyone that needs it. I would really like our next chapter to be about educating ourselves on fast, inexpensive, healthy meals that anyone can make and be satisfied and proud to serve to your family.
  1. What is your favorite inspirational quote? The more you judge the less you love.
  1. How do you plan to continue? What I want now is to spread the word that this resource is out there, as well as a panty clothing closet in my garage. Everything we do is free, 24/7 food access and judgment free.

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