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Paige Abdullah with her mother Christina Saunders with her Little Free Pantry

Little Free Pantry

A devastating loss inspired Paige Abdullah's DIY social service.

by Anita LeBlanc

From the February, 2018 issue

It's not unusual to see people begging along Washtenaw Ave. at the US-23 exit to Ypsilanti. Paige Abdullah and her brother, Dakota "Cody" Weems, often see the same people walking near the house on Yost Blvd. where Weems lives. They are one reason why Abdullah created a small cabinet that she stocks once or twice a week with nonperishable food and toiletries. She painted the initials QG on its back.

QG stands for Quenten Gonzales, Abdullah and Weems's half-brother, whose death inspired her person-to-person charity. "I thought maybe I could help others, even though Quenten couldn't be helped," Abdullah says sadly.

Gonzales was eighteen when he passed away on New Year's Day, 2017. He'd been to Dawn Farm to treat his heroin addiction but left. He was planning to return when a friend came into town. "I guess he met up with the kid who told him the stuff was 'bad'--I guess that's supposed to mean it was good," explains Abdullah, who believes the heroin was laced with fentanyl (see p. 31). "They all got sick and were throwing up, and Quenten was left in the room alone, and they didn't check on him until the next day. They called an ambulance, but he was already dead.

"We found out through social media," she continues. "Some kid messaged Cody, 'I'm so sorry for your loss.' And we were like 'what are you talking about?' My mom received a text that said 'Quenten died' and nothing more."

His parents divorced when Quenten was young, and he took it hard. He dropped out of school when he was fourteen, began doing drugs, and living on the street. He was frequently arrested and spent time in juvenile detention for misdemeanors. He was supposed to be staying with his dad but didn't. Because of his substance abuse and anger issues--he had punched a wall out in his mother's apartment--he couldn't live with her.

After he passed away, Abdullah began to

...continued below...

think about what she could do to honor his memory. She remembered how frequently he would call her or their mother, asking them to, "'Please give me some food. I'm really hungry. I'm so hungry.' My mom would take him something to eat, or I'd bring him some food wherever he was. And I started thinking about the people who don't have anyone" to do that for them.

Abdullah learned about little free pantries (some call them blessing boxes) on Pinterest. They operate along the same lines as little free libraries, but with donated food and toiletries instead of books. The first was reportedly launched in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in 2016, and it's estimated that there are now over 1,000 across the country. While not a replacement for food pantries, they're more accessible, anonymous, and open around the clock (Abdullah says that many visitors choose to come at night.)

Abdullah and Weems installed the pantry in July, stocking it with nonperishable food, toiletries, paper products, and pet food she'd stockpiled from freebies and buy-one-get-one-free deals at Kroger.

The items that disappear most quickly are deodorant, toilet paper, feminine hygiene products, and toothpaste--all things rarely available at food pantries. Because Abdullah was able to draw on the cache she'd accumulated, she estimates that it costs her only a bit more than $50 a month to keep it stocked. "Cody texts me when it's time to come refill it. He sees a lot of people walking by and taking things. Somebody told him they were really happy about it."

She'd like to increase the size of the pantry and promote others on properties near vulnerable populations. She also welcomes people adding to her pantry, but is hesitant to do anything that puts the focus on her.

"I want the pantry to be more of a tribute to my brother than recognition of my efforts," she says emphatically. "He had his problems with drugs, but he was a good kid."     (end of article)

[Originally published in February, 2018.]


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