The Pop-Up People’s Pantry in Merced, which helps provide food during the pandemic, is not quite one month old, but already it’s catching on like wildfire.
Located at the existing 18th Street People’s Garden, at 936 W. 18th Street in Merced, the pantry has a collection of fresh local produce which is available for people to take at no charge between 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays.
Customers are asked to wear a mask and gloves, use social distancing, only touch what they aim to take, and only take what they need.
Steve Roussos, a People’s Garden volunteer, told the Times, “The Pop-Up Pantry was started by Erin Meyer, who coordinates CropMobster, a large organization based at UC Merced which gleans food from existing farms and brings it to local people so it doesn’t go to waste.
“Erin goes to the Farmer’s Market in Merced, which ends at noon on Saturday, and she brings what is left over to the pantry.
“Besides Erin, there are about eight groups of people that drop off food that was literally just picked from their own gardens.
“It’s a way of distributing food items that are out there. Right now, people with fruit trees, like lemons, grapefruit and oranges, have an abundance of fruit and need to give some away.
“On April 18, the third weekend, the number of customers had tripled since the beginning. The people were social distancing themselves. It was really cool to see the 35 families with kids who came by to collect produce such as grapefruit, oranges, lemons, yams, potatoes, green onions, lettuce, Radicchio, eggs, beans, sweet peas, and garlic.
“I guess the word has gotten out. Every day, I get more emails from people who want to drop things off. Some people plan to bring some seedlings, like tomato and onion seedlings, for others to plant.”
The idea inspired an offshoot program called Victory Garden 2.0. Several community organizations, including the Yosemite High School Green Team (which has its own garden on campus) and the Merced College Horticulture Department are working together to provide plant starter seeds, and in return, they ask people to donate the food they produce to one of three choices: the Merced County Food Bank, the Pop-Up People’s Pantry, or a needy neighbor.
When asked to describe the 18th Street People’s Garden where the pantry is located, Roussos explained, “The 18th Street People’s Garden started in May 2019 when Merced County’s District 2 Participatory Budgeting allowed people to vote on what they wanted county funds to go to.
“I own the property, and I supply the land and the water. The garden is about 1,000 square feet, but it’s amazing what people have done with that space.
“I am one of six volunteers. The volunteers came over time, and they’re pretty low key.
“For June, we’re going to be planting tomatoes, melons, and herbs like basil, oregano, and thyme. There are already strawberries being grown, and that will continue.
“The people who built the beds thought it out well, and made it handicapped accessible.”
Community members who want to volunteer at the 18th Street People’s Garden at 936 W. 18th Street in Merced can email the group at: [email protected].
For more about the pantry or the victory garden program, contact Erin Meyer at: [email protected]
If people want to donate food for the pantry, they can also call 209-769-3231.
There is also a Go Fund Me donation page to support the pantry online at: