Person of the Week
Christine Baker: ‘It’s About the Neighborhood’
The Little Free Pantry in Clinton came about thanks to Christine Baker and, as she puts it, “the whole neighborhood.” (Photo courtesy of Christine Baker )
About two months ago, Christine Baker was watching Channel 3 news when a story about something in Windsor called a Little Free Pantry caught her eye. Christine went to the news station’s website to get more information about the idea and eventually decided to ask her neighbors to help install a pantry at the intersection of Houperts Way and Carter Hill Road in Clinton.
The pantry offers free food for any person or family who needs it. It also carries a special connection to a former resident who passed away.
The Little Free Pantry project started in Arkansas in 2016 and operates similar to the Little Free Library project that is popular across the country. Small wooden pantries are installed and filled with nonperishable food items or in some cases personal care and paper items, all of them available on a free and no-questions-asked policy.
While Christine may have gotten the idea first, during a recent chat Christine makes clear that bringing the pantry to Clinton was an effort that included all of her neighbors.
“The whole neighborhood should be person of week,” Christine jokes.
Christine said it cost about $300 for material to build, install, and stock the pantry, something that Christine says every neighbor gladly participated in when she contacted them.
“I really want to stress this isn’t about me, it’s about the neighborhood. Every single neighbor has donated time, money, or food,” Christine says.
What makes this particular little pantry unique it is also a memorial. Suzie DiLauro was a familiar friend to many in town and someone Christine describes as “a larger than life personality.” Suzie passed away earlier this year after a long battle with cancer. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people couldn’t gather to remember her life.
“We as a neighborhood decided to name the pantry in her honor. Even though she doesn’t live here anymore, she left a lasting mark,” Christine says.
A plaque below the pantry bears Suzie’s name.
Not having enough food to eat is a problem that Christine says affects more people in Connecticut than she realized. According to one study she saw, well over 400,000 Connecticut resident struggle with food needs and a large number of those people are children. Christine says she hopes word of the pantry spreads locally and that people come take food when they need.
Christine says people can take however much they need and can come day or night to get food.
“I feel like things are so divisive and I know its small, but we wanted to do something positive,” Christine says.
After the pantry was installed at the end of October, Christine posted about it on social media and was grateful that many in the community responded enthusiastically with some even donating items.
“We have a great neighborhood and network here in Clinton,” Christine says. “We really want people to come use the pantry,” she stresses.
Christine is the first to admit that she wasn’t always so civic minded with her time.
“I wouldn’t consider myself a community activist or anything,” she says.
Rather, Christine says as she’s gotten older, she’s gotten more proactive about helping her community.
“I think when I was younger in my 20s, I thought ‘That’s someone else’s job,’ but now in my 40s, I realize it’s not someone else’s job, it’s mine,” Christine explains.
Since the pantry was installed Halloween weekend, Christine says its been kept well stocked, something she appreciates.
“It’s really great and it just goes to show you how giving people are when given the opportunity.” Christine says.
In her view, Christine says the pandemic has led to people being more aware of people that are struggling, which has led to more people being willing to help others. Christine says with the pantry she’s been forced to think about how most people are able to live their life by getting food—whether ordering delivery, eating out, grabbing something from the fridge—whenever they want. However, many other families do not have that luxury in their life.
As for her neighborhood, while the virus has prevented them from socializing in many ways the pantry has been a rallying point.
“It’s actually made us close when know all our neighbors and we look out for one another,” Christine says.
Christine grew up in Madison and has lived in Clinton for about seven years. After living in New York for a time, Christine decided she wanted to move back to the area to be closer to her family after Superstorm Sandy. Spending time with family is something that is very important to Christine and what she says is one of her main hobbies along with “just trying to relax out by the pool with a book.”
“I grew up in a small town an there’s something special about small towns,” Christine says. “There’s a closeness and a willingness to pitch in and help that isn’t always there in a big city.”